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No Girls Allowed (Digific, Ch. 20)

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
Ch. 19 More Than Useless


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

A/N: Definition of Japanese terms below chapter. Also, sorry, the revelation about Tai and Jun's relationship gets shoved back yet another chapter!^^;; And a bit of heads up: you may feel like punching your computer screen several times reading the beginning and middle of this chapter, but you'll like the ending, I'm sure. (Don't worry, I've given Tai few mental slaps of my own in the duration of writing this).

Ch. 20 Be My Escape

The hours seemed to pass ever so slowly. Evening had fallen, but Tai still couldn't sleep despite Izzy's urgings before he had slipped out of the room. The most Tai had managed to snatch was few fitful, feverish dozes every half hour. It was during one of these when he was jerked awake by the bedroom door opening.

"Hey," Izzy greeted as he closed it behind him and walked over to the bed, one hand holding a tray with a steaming bowl of soup. "I told my mom you were spending a couple of days over here so we could work on a Literature project together but you weren't feeling too well today. So she made you some miso soup," the tray was deposited on the covers on top of Tai's lap. "Then I went over to your place and got the correct textbooks and materials," Izzy un-slung an over-flowing backpack from his shoulder and dropped it at the foot of his desk, "and told your mom the same story, except for, you know, being sick and all, because I didn't want her to worry plus, I don't think any of her food she would send over would actually help—ah, no offense!"

"Thanks, Izzy," Tai said quietly, fingering the spoon on the tray, but not picking it up. He had no appetite.

A knock rapped gently on the doorframe. "Izzy," Mrs. Izumi spoke softly so as not to disturb her son's friend. "Phone call."

"Eat it," Izzy ordered, gesturing to the soup. "Starving yourself isn't going to change past mistakes, and you're hungry whether you feel like it or not."

The boy slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him, but leaving a small crack slightly ajar, unintentionally letting Tai hear a one-way conversation.

"He's fine, don't worry… well, when I say 'fine', I meant as fine as someone can be considering the circumstances… no, I'm sorry, you can't now, he's asleep… right, I'll let you know when he wakes up… bye."

"I'm asleep?" Tai echoed confused when Izzy re-entered. He was sure he had woken up though. Was this a dream then? One of those lucid dreams when you're aware that you're dreaming and simply watching what unfolds?

"Oh," Izzy seemed startled that he had overhead. "No, I just thought you wouldn't feel like talking to anyone right now, that's all."

Well, that much was true. Sure, he was sorry for the way he had acted earlier, but that didn't mean he felt like spouting out apologies of what a giant jerk he had been any time soon.

"Who was it?" Tai asked dropping the spoon into the soup with a dull clatter and listlessly swirling it around.

"Nobody," Izzy said, brushing the matter aside and taking a seat in front of his desk. "Nobody," he said again, taking out a textbook and flipping through the pages in a brisk fashion. "Just Matt."

Maybe the old wives tale of a fever making you see things with greater clarity was true, for suddenly, something Tai had never noticed before clicked into place.

"Hey, Izzy," Tai said quietly staring down at the bowl of steaming broth. "You know you're my best friend too, right?"

The fast-paced page-flipping had stopped. There was silence for several seconds. Tai looked up to see Izzy sitting stiffly in his chair, his back and shoulders rigid. "No," his voice came finally in an odd, subdued manner. "No, I didn't actually."

He spun around to stare at him placidly. "What happened at the park?" he asked flatly.

Tai related the events as best as he could not bothering to mask the parts where his voice cracked in retelling. Izzy had seen him at his worst before in the Digital World before when he had cracked under the pressure of Kari being sick and years of guilt breaking through to the surface. He didn't have to put on a show of bravado for his sake.

"I see," Izzy said after everything was explained. "LadyDevimon mentioned a Digimon called Daemon, huh? Well, that's more than we got out of MarineDevimon. All the big cephalopod would do was the same evil roaring and laughter most cliché villains form a habit of. At least we now know there's another adversary out there who has yet to make an appearance, so we won't be completely caught off guard next time."

A small flicker of indignation rose within Tai at those words. "Is that all you can think about?" he demanded. "Agumon can't digivolve because of me and you don't even care to figure out why?"

"Oh, so you haven't completely given up on yourself then?" Izzy stated rather satisfactorily.

Tai flushed at the trap he had fallen into.

"I think perhaps you already have a good idea of what's stopping Agumon from digivolving," Izzy said shrewdly.

"Agumon said I was afraid," Tai breathed, finding the memory painful. "That I was afraid to let him fight. He said he tried, but I 'blocked' him. Is that even possible?"

"You don't realize you've done that before?"

"What?" Tai was startled. What on earth was Izzy talking about? He hadn't…

"On Spiral Mountain, the first time we encountered LadyDevimon," Izzy reminded him. "Agumon wanted to fight her and finish her off quickly, but you held him back and told him to save his energy for Piedmon."

"But he could have digivolved anyway if he wanted to, couldn't he?" Tai asked confused. "Even if it was going against my wishes right?"

A dim, distant memory was rising in his mind.

"It's my turn!"

"No, wait, we'll keep you in reserve!"

A small, orange dinosaur pleading with him.

"Let me warp-digivolve and I can take care of this black and white nightmare!"

"I had thought so too before you told me all this," Izzy said. "Remember we Digidestined harness the true power to make our partners digivolve. The digivices are only a tool that assists us. If have the ability to help them digivolve, I don't see why we couldn't also make the process work backwards and stop them."

"But it can't be true," Tai murmured refusing to believe this theory. Somehow, it seemed so unfair to Agumon. And if it was true, then it only made LadyDevimon's proposal valid.

"Would you finally become free of this pitiful human holding you back from your true potential? To achieve greater power?"

"It isn't true!" Tai cried, his mind latching onto another memory desperately in hopes of disproving Izzy. "What about when Sora's Crest still hadn't glowed yet and Myotismon attacked us? She didn't want Biyomon to get hurt, but Biyomon still digivolved anyway."

"Precisely," Izzy nodded one step ahead of him. "She didn't want Biyomon to get hurt. It's not that she wanted Biyomon to not digivolve—she just didn't want to see her partner suffer. So Biyomon fulfilled her wish in a different way: she digivolved so she would become stronger and was able to hold her ground against the enemy. I'm sorry, Tai, but the facts are irrefutable: the Digimon respond to our innermost desires… even if our desires aren't exactly the best ones."

SkullGreymon flashed across the front of Tai's mind with all-too disturbing clarity.

He fell back against his pillows with a shudder. His temples were beginning to ache again and his head felt burning hot.

"I suppose I'm not exactly helping you calm down any, am I?" Izzy chuckled weakly. "It seems there still is a lot to uncover about the bond we share with our partners. Yours and Agumon's is so strong, that you two are the ones that encounters these new anomalies first. Count yourself lucky."

"Lucky?" Tai echoed incredulously. His own partner was too disgusted to even be in the same room with him and he was supposed to feel lucky?

"Okay, that was a poor choice of words on my part," Izzy said making a face. "Look, you should just never forget that no matter how bad the situation appears or becomes, Agumon will always stand by you."

"Yeah?" Tai said disbelievingly. "Then where is he now?"

Izzy was quiet for several moments.

"Well?" Tai demanded, half-knowing the answer that was to come, dreading to hear it spoken, yet yearning too all the same because it would finally mark the solution to something that was inevitable in the long run anyway.

"He was still out on the balcony when I left," Izzy admitted reluctantly. "When I got back, Tentomon said he had gone out. He didn't know where to, but it's been a couple of hours now."

Tai said nothing, just simply lay there and stared up at the ceiling, a welter of emotions rushing over him. Betrayal that Agumon had left him, worry over not knowing where he was or how he was doing, chagrin at himself for being the cause of his partner's abrupt departure, grief for letting him down, but mostly, a cool sweep of relief.

"Maybe it's better this way," he whispered. "Maybe he'll be so disgusted at having me for a partner, it won't hurt as much as it should when I finally die."

"I can't believe you just said that," Izzy said quietly, a hint of anger barely audible on the edge of his voice. "The Tai I knew five years ago—"

"The Tai you knew five years ago was just stupid kid who knew nothing about how the real world works!" Tai shot back, anger of his own swelling up. "Courage is all well and fine when you're a hero in another universe, when the only thing you have to have to worry about is defeating the next bad guy who comes along and make sure your team is all powered up! It's a completely different matter here!"

Here where there was no definite black and white between good and evil. Here where things existed in an uncertain shade of grey. Where fairy-tales and dreams were easily broken by harsh reality. Where human mortality was fragile and fleeting.

"I wish the gateway hadn't re-opened," Tai said suddenly. "I wish Agumon didn't have to see how weak I've become. I wish he could have remembered me the way I was the last time we saw each other."

"I wish you could remember a little more of what drove you to act like you did back then and apply it to yourself today," Izzy couldn't resist saying.

"Go away," Tai snapped incredibly irritated. He wanted to be alone.

"This is my room," Izzy informed him dryly.

"Then don't talk to me right now!" Tai proclaimed, setting his food tray aside on the night stand and turning on his side to face the wall.

"A wise man once said you can't really exhibit courage unless you feel fear," Izzy pressed relentlessly. "But that can't be your problem, can it? Unless you've stopped caring altogether even to be afraid."

Tai tried to banish the words from his mind, but they remained flickering there at the forefront like a candle that refused to burn out.

"Was it Plato?" Tai finally caved into asking.

"Maybe."

"Drop dead."

oOo

When Tai opened his eyes again, the room was dark indicating that was it still nighttime. The glowing red numbers of the digital clock on the nightstand read 2:45 am. The soft, blue glow of the computer screen and the clackity-clackity sounds of fingers across the keyboard filled the air as the culprits that drove him awake.

"Izzy?" Tai mumbled lifting his head slightly. It felt as heavy as an overripe watermelon. "It's past midnight. What are you doing?"

"Your homework, what else?" Izzy declared. "You aren't in any shape to go to school tomorrow, but your assignments are still going to be due. Don't worry, I've gotten enough answers wrong on purpose and typed out essay mediocre enough that I should be able to pass it all off as your handiwork. That's the beauty of a computer. No one can tell who you are by your chicken-scratch penmanship when it's all printed out."

Tai was too tired to feel insulted by all that. "Thanks, Izzy."

Izzy gave a long, despairing sigh. "There's some aspirin and a glass of water on the nightstand. I suggest you take some."

Tai did so and simply there lay there for a moment before voicing the question that was nagging persistently at his mind. "Has Agumon come back?"

The slight slumping of Izzy's shoulders gave him the answer without any words.

"Do you think our Digimon will be able to find new partners after we die? Or are they able to choose someone else if we handicap them?" Tai inquired with grim curiosity.

"I swear to Gennai I will hurl this monitor at your head if you don't shut up," Izzy bit out sharply. "Wherever Agumon is, he left for a good reason and it certainly isn't because he has abandoned you. So trust him and let your body get some rest!"

"You know you're awful bossy," Tai murmured drowsily, feeling soothed by his friend's steadfast conviction.

"Someone has to be with a hard-head like you," Izzy retorted. "Hey," he said more gently in a coaxing-like manner as if speaking to a beaten, whipped dog. "I hope you realize that being brave… doesn't necessarily mean you have to be strong."

"No, but it sure as hell helps," Tai snorted.

Well, he didn't get a computer monitor thrown at his head, but the speaker hitting his shoulder blade was definitely going to leave a bruise.

His last thought before drifting off into a true sleep was that he had been wrong in assuming that Izzy wasn't into physical violence and that he should really get some anger management classes.

oOo

When Tai woke up it was mid-morning and sunlight was streaming through the window in abundant brightess. His head felt much clearer than it had last night, however the heat of his fever still clung to him in stubborn persistence. It couldn't have been very high though, for he was able to sit upright and swing his legs over the edge of the bed without much trouble. The room tilted precariously before his eyes for a few seconds before straightening itself again. Izzy was nowhere in sight—most likely, he had already left for school.

His D-Terminal was resting on the nightstand on top of a wrapped bento and flipped open with one message waiting to be read:

I told Mom not to disturb you. Here's an extra bento she made yesterday so you won't be hungry. Agumon still hasn't returned yet. Don't go running off to look for him. The younger kids' Digimon are already on it. Just stay there and relax for one day. The computer is off limits. Don't even think of playing games or surfing the web—it's password protected. Catch up on your studies instead. Final exams are coming up.

TL;DR?

Lemme put this in a language you understand:

Haiku God stay put
Touch PC and you are dead
Read about Plato

-Izzy

Tai half-smiled at the message. The muscles around his face felt strange when he did as if they had almost forgotten how to smile.

Tch, but what an amateur! He was tons better at haikus than Izzy, ha!

His humor only lasted for a moment. The events of yesterday weighed heavily upon his mind like a load of bricks. He had basically taken five years of friendship, spit on it, ripped it up into a million pieces and flung into his friends' faces. All because of what? Because he and Agumon could no longer contribute to the fight? Because jealousy of the younger team he hadn't even known existed had reared its ugly head? Because he had been afraid? Afraid of Agumon being deleted? Afraid that he was becoming just as ordinary as someone who hadn't been chosen as a Digidestined?

Hell, he didn't even know himself.

It had been a jigsaw of disaster coming together all at once way too fast, and he had been vulnerable enough for everything to overwhelm him.

So for the rest of the day, Tai did his best to distract himself from thinking too much about it. He hacked into Izzy's computer in under a minute—it really wasn't that difficult (semi-conductor? Please, did Izzy honestly think he wouldn't guess that?)—and spent the remainder of the morning idly browsing the net until the light emitting from the screen sparked off another dazzling headache.

One more aspirin and a cat-nap later, a glance at the clock read 1:33 pm. He a few hours until school let out. He scanned the room for something to kill time with until Izzy got back with an update hopefully. His eyes fell upon the neatly-arranged stack of Plato's books on top of the desk.

No, he wouldn't. It went completely against his morals. He wasn't that desperate.

Six chapters and two hours later…

Okay, apparently he was.

It was fine though. He was just passing the time. It wasn't like he was going to use all these rhetoric skills later in life and become a politician or some other nonsense, yeah right.

He totally ignored the fact that he had dismissed Izzy's game consoles gleaming temptingly at him off to one side without a second thought.

He was still at it when Izzy finally returned home… with a surprise guest along tow.

Well, uninvited guest would more the correct the phrase.

"You can't just barge in here—that's breaking and entering!" Izzy's frazzled squawking floated through as the door to the bedroom burst open by the very person he had been trying keep out.

"Out, nerd-boy," Jun ordered, giving him a firm shove in the chest backwards, her narrowed eyes never leaving Tai's. "Me and Mr. Foolish Hero Complex need to have a little chat."

Izzy had time to voice one last indignant command before Jun slammed the door in his face: "Don't you two dare do anything ostentatious on my bed in there, dammit!"

Tai dropped his gaze as Jun approached. He hadn't informed her of his whereabouts like she had asked. She was bound to find out one way or the other attending the same school as his friends. Most likely, she had harassed them all day until she discovered it was Izzy he was staying with then stalked the poor boy home. She probably also knew about his verbal abuse on her little brother yesterday, who as much as she denied or just didn't admit she cared for him, did. He felt the mattress dip slightly as Jun sat down beside him. Bracing himself, he waited for the inevitable outburst that was sure to come.

It never did.

"Isn't this the part where you're supposed to hit me over the head with some proverbial hammer and make me see reason again?" Tai couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice as he asked her.

"Well, I'm sure if you've already spun out countless long lectures of me and your other friends doing so, there's no need for me to give repeat performance. Whatever I have prepared is certainly not up to par with your imagination," Jun replied sounding strangely amused. She nudged her elbow into his shoulder in a playful manner that told him she wasn't the least bit mad or appalled by him.

"I'm a horrible person... how can you still like me?" Tai whispered hollowly.

Jun emitted a heavy sigh. "Look, if this is about your breakdown yesterday—yes, I know about that, and it's not 'cause Davis squealed 'wolf' on you. He didn't even come home; he spent the night at that Ichijouji kid's place. Matt told me—and I think you're over-reacting about it."

Tai lifted his head, a crinkle-line creasing his forehead. "What… Matt?"

"Yes, Matt," Jun nodded repeating. "Mr. Heartthrob Rock Star Ishida personally came over to my, his former ex-stalker's apartment last night to find out what happened yesterday at the skating rink."

Tai didn't know what to feel at that moment. Matt was scared to death of Jun, still was, even though he had turned her down, even though she had given up on him. That he actually had gone over to her place last night—hadn't even waited until the next morning at school to ask her…

"He was really worried about you, you know," Jun said placing her hand over his hand. "I bet all your friends are. Are you going to let a little bit of doubt and a temper tantrum stand in the way of that?"

Tai slid his hand away from hers and balled it up into a fist. "You don't understand," he bit out.

"I understand a lot more than you think," Jun replied tartly. "The thing with you Digidestined is you think you have to be perfect. The rest of the world already knows that's impossible. We're ugly, we're selfish, we're cruel, and we're all afraid. Afraid to die, afraid to live, afraid of not being good enough. The thing that makes us different from you is that we can admit this. Everyone has faults; everyone has flaws, dark secrets, and resentments. Good grief, you Digidestined may have been specifically chosen by god-like beings, but you all are still as human as the rest of us! People make mistakes, we hurt others, and we hurt ourselves too. The big question is when we come to this point in our lives, what at are you going to do about it? Are you going to just stay in this room wallowing in misery and or are you going get out and set things right?"

A wave of irritation rolled over him. Suddenly Jun's very presence, her closeness at the moment with no respect for personal boundaries annoyed him. He wanted her to leave.

"Are you done?" he asked sharply.

Hurt flashed briefly across her face before a cool mask snapped down in its place. "Yes, I'm done," she said smoothly getting up and walking to the door. "Oh, one more thing," Jun said pausing with one hand on the handle. "Here's a question for you. Do you know what makes the difference between a hero and coward?" There was no malice in her tone, contempt or disappointment even. She was merely making a neutral statement. "It's the direction they run towards screaming," she eyed him carefully. "Have you decided which way you want to go or are you still stuck at the cross-roads?"

And Tai couldn't answer because he didn't know.

The door opened and then she was gone, and so was the anger he felt mere moments ago. He had done it again. Lashed out and pushed away someone else he cared about. What was the matter with him?

Izzy entered cautiously a few minutes later, scanning the room with suspicious eyes. "So, um, nothing happened right?" he said, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.

"Did they find Agumon?" Tai asked, ignoring the question.

Izzy wrung his hands together helplessly. "They couldn't pick up any trace of him. It's like he's vanished off the face of this planet. Oh, but I'm sure he's still in the real world though!" the boy tried to amend hastily. "I'm sure he didn't get sucked through a warp-hole or something! I'm sure he's fine."

He probably was, Tai agreed mentally. As long as he didn't have a useless partner like him dragging him down.

An exhausted, numb fog crept over his mind and seeped into his body. Tai welcomed the weariness, lying back down and drawing the blanket back.

"What are you doing?"

"Going to sleep."

"But it's still daylight. It's in the middle of the afternoon!" Izzy protested. "You go to sleep now and you'll be up all night!"

"Doubt it," Tai mumbled pulling the covers over his head.

He felt as if he could sleep forever. There was no need to face reality if he was asleep. No need to think and be reminded over and over of his past mistakes.

"I know things look hopeless right now, alright? But don't do this! You can't just block out the rest of the world because of a few unfortunate circumstances!" Izzy yelled at him, angry frustration flying off of every word.

"Watch me."

And he sunk down into blessed oblivion of dreams filled with a long-forgotten time where his existence has once served a purpose.

oOo

He slept through dinner, slept through sunset, woke up once to use the restroom, but was able to fall back into slumber the minute his head hit his pillow. Slept through early morning and the only reason he woke up before noon was because of the loud rumbling and sharp gnawing of hunger in his stomach.

Another bento was waiting on the nightstand with another message on his D-Terminal from Izzy, this one less than jovial from yesterdays.

Your sister is worried about you because you haven't contacted her for two days now. So is everyone else. Type up something and send it their way please. And if you keep up your abnormal sleeping habits, I'm going to tell Joe you've developed mono. So do something productive today or you're going to have another hospital check-up sooner than you think!

-Izzy

Tai slammed the D-Terminal's lid shut and knocked the device to the floor. There was nothing more for him to say to them. They must know—all of them if their partners were out searching—that Agumon had left him. He was too ashamed to even face them via email.

His role as a Digidestined now was nothing but a sham.

He ate the bento methodically, the food utterly tasteless in his mouth. There was one point he did agree with Izzy on though. He had spent far too long sleeping in a room that wasn't even his. If he had to stare at these same four walls again for any longer he'd go stir-crazy.

So he let himself out when Mrs. Izumi's back was turned to him. He didn't want to engage in meaningless small talk. He didn't think he had the energy to keep up a carefree façade. The fresh, wintry breeze was a relief from the stifling, warm air of the apartment.

Tai let his feet do the walking, not bothering to notice his surroundings or caring where he ended up. All he could think of was Agumon and where he might be. He thought he could come to terms with his partner casting him aside—he deserved it. But there were so many things in the real world a Digimon had a difficult time understanding. Like how cars were not sentient beings called Automobilemon and you should not try to start a conversation with one at the intersection when the light was green. It wasn't just the perils of the human world that had him worried. What if a Virus without a host slipped over to this side and attached itself to him again?

Agumon… where would you go? Tai thought desperately stopping in his tracks. Had he simply run away without a goal in mind? Hadn't he promised he'd be there for him whenever he needed him, always and forever? But then, Tai had promised him that he would never fail his partner again.

They were both such terrible liars.

"Captain!"

Tai looked up. There, a few feet ahead of him was the soccer team, their uniforms visible beneath their winter clothing, and Sano at the front of the group waving energetically. From the looks of it, they had come fresh off the field, which meant that school had already let out an hour before they had started practice. He had been wandering around for that long?

The next thing he knew he had been swamped on all sides by familiar faces of people who were enormously overjoyed to see him. Sano had loped one arm around his neck, Asama was giving him a playful noogie on the head, Kitagawa had punched him lightly in the arm, and the rest of his teammates were patting him lightly on the shoulders, careful never to accidentally touch the span of his back.

"Captain, where have you been for so long?"

"We missed you!"

"How's your back healing up?"

"You missed our epic soccer match!"

"Epic loss, is what he means."

"Dude, no! Coach slipping into insanity towards the end was so epic, the game might just have been a win!"

"The only good outcome about it is that the school is hiring a new coach and we get stress-free practice time until the spring season tournament!"

"You have to get better so you can join us again, Captain!"

Tai was overwhelmed. There was a tight, breathless sensation in his chest. The kind you get when you're on the very top of a roller coaster about to shoot downhill. He had almost forgotten. The soccer members were his teammates too. Teammates that he hadn't snapped and lost it in front of, but still had let down just the same by getting injured and being unable to play. He had even been neglecting his duties as captain by not keeping up to date on his team's skills, speed, and progress. Even if he couldn't play soccer yet, he could have at least come and overseen the practices on the bench.

Why was it that life was so persistent in shoving every area of weakness he had developed into his face?

"I'm sorry," Tai said with downcast eyes, "I haven't been a very good captain lately, have I?"

"Now look what you big clouts did!" Sano's admonishing voice sounded in ears. "Taichi-san, don't take these idiots to heart! They all think your spinal fracture is some sort of glorified war wound. Defending your lady fair in the tide of battle! How noble a cause!"

"What?"

But Sano had already starting walking, hauling Tai along as his arm had never unwound itself from around his neck. "Come on, men! Let's commemorate our captain's safe return to us with a celebratory feast!" he exclaimed dramatically, punching his free hand into the air. The soccer team fell in alongside them with excited shouts.

There was no escaping. Tai was found himself trekking the crowded Tokyo sidewalks, surrounded by enthusiastic, chattering teammates who argued about every favorite food dish under the sun until they passed by a teppanyaki restaurant where there was a great deal of pushing and shoving through the doors to be the first ones inside and a mad scramble to grab one of the longer tables.

"Okonomiyaki!" cried one of the reserve players, a first year mid-fielder by the name of Katsuhito who was bouncing up and down in his seat. "We're going to have okonomiyaki!"

The batter and ingredients were delivered to them once everyone had sat down and then fight over who could prepare the biggest, baddest, most delicious pancake on the flat-surface, hot iron griddle began.

"Hey, those were my bonito flakes!"

"Well, you were too slow!"

"Whose got the scallops?"

"Pass the pork cuttings!"

"Don't drop that squid into the batter or so help me—!"

"Guys, check it out! It's Mt. Fuji!" Kitagawa crowed as he topped his pancake with yakisoba noodles into a triangular-shaped mountain. His triumph only lasted a few seconds before his masterpiece melted down under the steaming kewpie sauce Asama poured over it.

"You killed it, man! What the hell?"

"The volcano erupted," Asama shrugged smugly.

"You're not hungry?" Sano questioned as Tai poked idly at his pancake that was sizzling on the hot iron. He hadn't bothered adding any special side fillings other than a handful of beef slices.

"I ate earlier," Tai said.

Sano stared at his face for a little while before venturing, "You shouldn't worry about not being able to play soccer so much. It's only temporary. You'll be back on the field better than ever leading us to victory once more again soon!"

Tai's hand on the spatula closed convulsively. "But what if I'm no good anymore? What if I lost my skill? What if I've become a failure? I can't even manage overseeing my own team. I'm sure you've made a better striker than me in my absence…" Sweat collected in a crown of drops around his forehead that wasn't just from the heat the hot iron griddle was emitting, was making it difficult for him to breathe.

He felt a hand land on his shoulder, the tiny tremors that had started subsided at the simple gesture. Tai looked up to see Sano smiling at him.

"Hey, it's ok," Sano said. "You just have to put a little more faith in yourself."

"Faith…" Tai echoed, remembering Agumon's last words to him.

"You not only don't believe in yourself… you've given up believing in me."

"That's right," Sano continued solemnly. "I know you, Taichi. We've been teammates since primary school and you should have no fear about suddenly losing your talent! Whatever the problem, you have to remember that soccer isn't what abandons you. It's you who abandons it first. If you give up before the game, how will know if you could have won?"

"Ah, ah!" nodded Asama, who had been listening, dived in. "I'm the goalie for this team, but even I know it's not me blocking the balls that will allow us to win. Sometimes the ball will go in despite your best effort. Then it's up to you to trust your teammates to take the points back!"

"Yeah!" came the unified, vigorous whoops of the forwards. By now, the entire soccer team had been drawn into the conversation.

"That's the beauty of soccer!" Sano declared, his eyes taking on a shining gleam. "You don't have to bear the burden of winning or loosing all by yourself. Soccer isn't a solo sport. It takes eleven people to play the game not one! Every action is connected out there. If you flounder on the field, so will your teammates."

The overwhelming feeling was back in Tai's chest, but it was different from before. This time there was a glowing warmth to it that stretched out and numbed the pain he had locked away. His teammates weren't even aware of his other life, the complications in it, and yet their words still drove the message home.

Is that what I've been doing? Tai thought. Fighting by myself? Had he been trying to prove he was still just as good as Davis and the younger team, if not better?

His musings were interrupted by someone rushing into the restaurant flustered and out of breath from running so hard.

"Quick, turn on the tv!" he shouted at one of the servers behind the bar. "More of those monsters have appeared! They're broadcasting it live on all the channels!"

A sinking sensation swooped in his stomach at the announcement. Whether it was that more Digimon had slipped through to the real world and were running amok, or if they were more of Lord Daemon's minions purposefully causing havoc—Tai knew that the Digidestined had to be involved either way… and he could not help them.

There wasn't an immediate outburst of panic, at least not as much as he had expected. Some of the customers did seem nervous and apprehensive, but for the most part, quite a lot of people looked annoyed.

"What? Again?" the head cook grumbled, throwing down his wipe rag and going over to turn on the tv in the corner. "I had to close this shop for an entire week last time because we ran out of supplies and the delivery trucks were overturned and lost their cargo!"

"I got held up at the train station for seven hours when this happened before!" one woman shared to her friend.

"My cousin's bakery was destroyed last time by this giant teddy bear who shot laser beams from his eyes!" her friend chipped in.

"My car got flattened by this black triceratops creature!" a salary-man in a business suit voiced his own displeasure. "It's completely totaled and the insurance won't pay for it because they claim their policy doesn't cover dinosaur-related damages!"

Even the news anchor on television appeared less-than-impressed and un-frightened by the latest monster attacks.

"Good afternoon, citizens of Tokyo," the man greeted his viewers in a bored, drawling manner as he shuffled his papers in front of him. "If you are just tuning in then this breaking news. Yes, we are currently undergoing yet another string of attacks caused by monsters. I suppose the questions everyone wants answered are: where are these creatures coming from? What kind of manner of beasts are they? Is their destruction of our cities simply a misguided attempt to communicate with us? Has Japan become some sort of monster magnet? And what precautions should we civilians take into our own hands since our military has been proven their complete inadequacy at protecting us? And the answer to all these inquiries is…"

The people in the restaurant waited with bated breath.

"We don't know!" the news anchor chirped almost cheerfully at the camera, adjusting his glasses.

There was a general groan of dissent as well as several, colorful curses flung at the tv.

"That's right! We the people whose very jobs depend on uncovering the truth and presenting the facts are as clueless as the rest of you!" the news anchorman continued on his merry tirade. "But our suggestion is that you stay out of the path of these monsters because they have been proven to be extremely dangerous when encountered! On the bright side, they might just destroy each other without us even stepping in since fighting within their ranks remains a constant factor in every one of their appearances! We have a news crew at the scene bringing us live footage."

The scene on tv switched from the news anchor to a fuzzy, unstable video of a woman clutching her microphone in a terrified death grip as she spoke into it.

"We are here on the outskirts of Fujiyoshida City broadcasting live the appearance of the monsters that have appeared so suddenly, seeming to have crawled down from the slopes of Mt. Fuji today. We are not certain of their exact origin at this time. Whether Mt. Fuji serves as a portal of some kind, whether these monsters are aliens or demons, however, the citizens of Fujiyoshida City are being evacuated as we speak due to the intense battle that has broken out as you can see."

With this, the camera panned onto the city behind the woman and zoomed in. The news crew were too far away to fully bring the details of the monsters into focus, but Tai could still recognize the shapes of Arukeniemon and Mummymon as they leapt across rooftop to rooftop, Halsemon and Nefertimon hot on their trail. Kari and Yolei weren't visible on their backs, but if their partners were there, they had to be somewhere nearby. Mt. Fuji must have been where Oikawa had been in hiding. No wonder the Digidestined hadn't been able to locate him.

Paildramon soared up above the skyscrapers suddenly and Tai's anxiety for his sister relented slightly. If he was there then so was the rest of the younger team probably, and Arukeniemon and Mummymon didn't stand a chance of escaping.

But they were not the concerns of Paildramon at the moment as he completely ignored the two, his attention directed his energy blasts at something below him on the ground.

"KYAAAAAA!" the woman reporter screamed looking up as an enormous shadow passed over her. The camera tilted upwards swiftly to only catch the end of the Digimon's tail feathers as they soared overhead.

Garudamon was there.

A white and blue-striped wolf running on his two hind legs raced past the woman in blue causing her to scream again.

So was WereGarurumon.

The older Digidestined had arrived. And there were more Digimon there besides Arukeniemon and Mummymon. It must be as bad as the time of the Christmas Eve concert but reversed. There were too many for the younger kids to handle and they had called in reinforcements. Had another rogue gateway opened on Mt. Fuji?

On tv, a herd of Mammothmon stampeded out of the city straight towards the news crew.

The woman screamed for a third and final time, unleashing the most blood-curdling shriek ever as she and her cameraman made a wild dash to their van.

"I can't handle this kind of pressure!" the woman reporter could be heard wailing as all the camera showed at the moment was a full view of the steering wheel. "I WANTED TO BE WEATHER GIRL, DAMMIT! Here's my daily weather report, Japan! Steer clear of Fujiyoshida City today! We have a one hundred percent chance of it raining monsters!"

"Man," Kitagawa sighed in disappointment as he watched the chaos unfold. "They're totally trashing the place. I was going to hiking up there with my dad this weekend. I bet the military will have the entire area blocked off for weeks. Stupid monsters, why couldn't they find some other planet to invade?"

It stung a little that his teammate felt that way, but to the public, Digimon were really nothing more then Hollywood-type monsters come to life that wrecked their surrounding environments and placed a huge strain on people's lives, jobs, mentality and finances. He couldn't fault them for thinking that way when Digimon had caused nothing but trouble so far.

"I don't think they're all bad, actually," Tarou, one of the newcomers to the team in the position of defender, spoke up startling everyone with his declaration.

"You're taking their side after all they done?" frowned Kitagawa.

"It's not about choosing sides," Tarou said firmly with enough conviction in his tone to show that he was serious. "It's true most of them will try and kill you as soon as look at you, but there are exceptions. My little brother and sister were at the skating rink the other day when it got attacked by that 'flying witch lady' they described her as."

Tai jerked his head up sharply. Tarou's little brother and sister… could they be the same children Agumon had been ice-skating with?

"They said their friend 'Mr. T-Rex' saved them," Tarou shared. "If he hadn't been there, then my brother and sister would likely be dead by now. So they can't be all bad if some of them protect us like that, like we're worth something to them."

Worth.

He had been worth something once. He had had a partner and had been part of a wonderful group of friends as well as a team.

There was a small voice in his head urging him to leave and go to Fujiyoshida City, but that was insane right? The younger kids were fine now. The older Digidestined were there. They didn't need him and without Agumon he was useless to help, wasn't he?

oOo

"Soccer isn't what abandons you. It's you who abandons it first!"

oOo

"Soccer isn't a solo sport. It takes eleven people to play the game not one!"

oOo

What had Davis been about to say before he had cruelly taken his anger out on him?

"We're a team, remember? We can't win unless we're all together!"

oOo

Was it true? Would it really make a difference at all whether or not he got up this very instant and attempted to go to Fujiyoshida City even though all transportation there had no doubt been canceled, without partner and without courage?

oOo

"A wise man once said you can't really exhibit courage unless you feel fear. But that can't be your problem, can it? Unless you've stopped caring altogether even to be afraid."

oOo

"Do you know what makes the difference between a hero and coward? It's the direction they run towards screaming."

oOo

He was so sick of this pit of apathetic despair that he had fallen into… but the only way to get rid of it was if he found the strength to climb out by himself.

He jumped to his feet abruptly startling everyone and discovered that his legs were shaking.

"Captain? What's wrong?" Asama asked.

"I've got to go," Tai gasped out, adrenalin coursing madly through his veins. "I should left… a long while ago."

He rushed for the door, leaving the bewildered cries of his teammates behind him, and had only put one foot outside before his name was called.

"Hey, Taichi!"

He stopped only because it was Sano. The boy was turned around halfway in his seat to give him a thumbs up. "Give 'em hell!" he grinned broadly.

Tai's eyes widened. Did Sano know? Or at least suspect? He shook the surprise off quickly. It didn't matter if he did or not at this point. He had friends he wasn't going to let down any second longer. He flashed him a return thumbs up before running out of the restaurant and down the sidewalk, a half-formed idea emerging out of the depths of his mind which had been clouded by his own doubts and insecurity for so long.

He ran until he reached a telephone booth.

Stepped inside.

Dialed Jun's cell phone.

And sincerely hoped that this one time she would answer the strange number that was calling instead of leaving it for her insane voicemail to pick up.

"Hello?"

"I've figured out which direction I want to run screaming!" Tai proclaimed breathlessly.

He could hear the smile in her voice as she spoke. "It's about time."

oOo

Jun pulled up next to the curb where he was waiting in under fifteen minutes. One of the perks of driving a moped: traffic lanes and jams did not necessarily apply to you.

"Ready to go kick some badass monster butt, Mr. Foolish Hero Complex?" Jun grinned cheekily.

"Ah, well, I decided that I needed to blow off some steam," Tai shrugged casually, taking the spare helmet and putting it on, smiling as the faint scent of almonds wafted over him. "Hey, sorry… about yesterday."

"Tch, it wasn't the first time I've seen a guy act like they have a severe case of male PMS," Jun rolled her eyes, dangling the keys in front of him. "Now start her up!"

"W-w-what?" Tai stuttered, scarcely believing what he was hearing. "You want me to drive?"

"Oh, you don't want to?" Jun mock-feigned surprise, starting to withdraw her hand back. "Well, I guess I'll just have to—"

"No!" Tai yelped, snatching the keys from her grasp. "I mean hell, yeah, I totally want to drive! But I don't—"

"Oh, please, it's easy," Jun rolled her eyes, giving him a brief tutorial. "Front brake on the right, rear brake on the left," she indicated to the handle bars. "Hold both brakes when you give it gas or else you'll crash before you even take off. To accelerate, twist the right handle bar. To turn right, steer left. To turn left, steer right. See? Easy as pie."

"Uhhh…" Tai said, his mind spinning in circles. "Maybe you should drive after all."

"Don't be silly. The videographer can't drive and tape at the same time!" Jun stated hopping off and opening the seat up to retrieve a mini-cam recorder from beneath. "That news crew at Fujiyoshida were such amateurs!" she scoffed. "Since we're going to be right up close and in the midst of all the action, I figured why not catch it all on film? This will be Jun Motomiya's shining debut video as a top-rate reporter! No news studio in the world will turn me down a job!"

Tai blinked… then smiled. Well, since Digimon had already been exposed to the public, he didn't see any harm in letting her videotape them. They both had dreams to chase before they were lost to them.

He waited until Jun had fixed the camcorder's strap around her neck and climbed on behind him, encircling her arms around his waist. Then he tried to follow the instructions she had given him, turned the key in the ignition, twisted the handlebars to rev it up… and the moped shot forward five feet before overturning sharply sending them both spilling onto the sidewalk.

"I said to hold both the brakes down when you give it gas!" Jun yelled, whacking him in the helmet but she was laughing.

"Sorry," Tai said flushing hotly as he stood the moped upright and they both climbed back on. This time when he powered it up, he did so correctly.

"Just don't go over thirty kilometers until we're out of Tokyo or you'll have us trapped under a bus!" Jun ordered as he eased the moped onto the roadway into the heavy traffic.

"Don't be a backseat driver, woman!" Tai shouted fighting back the large grin that threatened to take over his face as something Izzy said drifted back to him.

"Wherever Agumon is, he left for a good reason and it certainly isn't because he has abandoned you!"

oOo

Agumon, I'm sorry, he thought as he sped along. I've only been living in the present. Embracing the past, trying to escape the future. All because I was afraid of change. I haven't given up yet. I'm coming. Wherever you are, please… please find me!

oOo

Tai's Haiku Corner

When someone belives
In you, respond through action
Never hesitate

To Be Continued…

A/N: Definition of Japanese terms below:

Teppanyaki: Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. These types of restaurants are widely used to cook foods in front of their customers. Don't confuse this with the hibachi type grill, which uses charcoal or gas flame. Teppanyaki grills are flat-iron surfaces. In the West, people sit a bar-counter while the Japanese cook performs a knife-show while cooking their meals. It's a little different in Japan. Most teppanyaki restaurants have their own booths with hot grills built into the tables. Usually the customer orders what they want, get the ingredients and cook their own food themselves! Cool, no? And the most commonly served dish in an Eastern teppanyaki restaurant is okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki: large, grilled Japanese pancake with various fillings, topping, and condiments. Commonly used ingredients include seafood, beef, chicken, chopped vegetables, pickled ginger, and bonito.

Bonito: fish ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Basically dried fish flakes to add to whatever dish you have prepared. Seaweed flavor is available also.

Kewpie: spicy, Japanese mayonnaise, brown in color; resembles steak sauce.

Two months since the last update. I didn't enjoy anymore than you all did, I'm sure. God, it's harder than you think to kick someone out of angsting. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible. I wanted people to see everything connect. I'm not sure if I succeeded, but I think I got close. I don't think Tai has quite redeemed himself fully yet, but he's on the right path!

And once again, Jun and Tai's relationship did not get found out because the chapter is too darn long, but there's no more denying it next chapter. Not when they arrive together, heehee!^^

Fun Facts: You know why I love reading/writing about Digimon so much? Why I'm still in love with a kid's show after 10+ years? Because of the deep friendship bonds the show portrays. It's not about the love triangles, the crushes, the plot or the action (though that part is exciting). It's about character interaction, development and growth. In practically every season of Digimon, you get to see the kids evolve. To change into someone stronger. To know that no matter how many times you fall, your friends are there to lend you a hand back up. To face the wall that holds you back from improving and push it down with your friends support at your back.

I didn't think I would find a show like Digimon ever again. Then I stumbled across Inazuma Eleven. *cracks grin* Best damn anime about soccer I have ever watched and yes, I have watched about all the choices out there so far. (Tai and Davis would be such FANBOYS! XD). I was deeply inspired by the first and second opening songs. I highly suggest watching them on youtube and reading the lyrics. The songs themselves are really catchy. I found myself singing them in Japanese today—very, very, butchered, out of tune Japanese. It was awesome! X3 Anyway, those songs are good to listen to when Tai runs into the soccer team.

Anime openings inspire me a lot in my writing if you hadn't noticed. Two more OPs that would fit this chapter towards the end are Eyeshield 21's third OP (Dang Dang by zz) and its fifth OP as well (Honoo no Runningback). Again, you must read the lyrics for the scenes in the OP to make any sense. The anime is about American football, not soccer, but it still fits the situation here. And finally, to end it all, I listened to Get Over by Dream (Hikaru no Go OP1, lol) and The Perfect Scene by Mercy Mercedes. And of course, Be My Escape by Reliant K is great to play while reading the beginning of the chapter. Yes, a listened to a TON of music for this chapter. It helps get the gears turning when they start rusting over.

So anyway, did anyone guess where Agumon went off to and why? Izzy's right. It's not because he's abandoned Tai. The reason shouldn't be too hard to guess if you put your mind to it. And even though I took creative license since the story is AU, Digimon responding to their partner's wishes seems pretty probable canon-wise. Remember when Davis was upset because Veemon was the only Digimon on the team that couldn't fly? What did he digivolve into? Ex-Veemon has wings. And I don't want to give away future plot, but there could have been more Digimon that slipped into the real world through that portal that was ripped near Mt. Fuji by a certain someone. Plus, yeah, I did just want to give the older kids more screen-fighting 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: The Ties That Bind


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