THE COURAGE TO FLY
Dub names and terminology will be used in most cases, though there are a few parts where a Japanese name or term will be used if I like it better.
My own biases on matters will be readily apparent, I'm sure, but I hope the effort I've made to respect all viewpoints on some of these issues, still controversial years later, will also come through.
The fourteen year old boy (a couple months shy of his fifteenth birthday) might have been, at first glance, under dressed for a February day, but the cold only made him run harder.
His Mom had given him her usual worried look when he left on this jog, but she hadn't tried hard to stop him--fortunate, because he'd been about to go crazy. He felt like a live wire. Like a teapot ready to bubble over. He needed to get away from everybody, and let some of that electricity, some of that pressure, out of his system.
It's not like I didn't have a good excuse...Soccer may be a warm weather sport, but you gotta stay active year-round to stay in shape. So yeah, a little jog in the middle of winter isn't my usual routine--but it's not like I've ever done it before, either. So maybe...just maybe...Mom doesn't come close to knowing that there's something more to it than just midwinter cabin fever...
Taichi Kamiya came to a stop, leaning against a fence. He exhaled for a few seconds, and reached up to adjust his sweatband. He ruminated how odd it still felt to be wearing the band all by itself, without the goggles that he used to wear over them almost all the time. The goggles Grandpa Kamiya gave me... He'd given them to someone else, as a reward for saving his little sister's life, and the thought of asking for them back never even crossed Tai's mind. Still...I wonder if Davis would get insulted if I bought myself a new pair...
Tai looked over at the empty tennis court. For a second, an image came to his mind's eye, of the warmer months and the girls playing tennis on those courts. One in particular, who'd always give him that half-flattered, half-chiding look whenever she caught him "just happening to jog by"
Tai shook his head angrily to expunge the image. Why do I do this crap to myself?
There was a beep from the device in his waistband. He out pulled the small gizmo, about the same size and shape as a pager, and looked at it. He exhaled with relief when he realized it was just the timer he'd set before he left--not a crisis requiring his swift attention. The last eight months of 2002 had been more than enough in the crisis deparment.
Five years later, Tai, Kari, and six of their closest friends would find themselves embroiled in a battle for the fate of not only the Earth itself, but the world from which the Digimon hailed, pitting their Digimon partners against the evils of Devimon, Etemon, Myotismon, the four horrific Dark Masters, and Diaboromon.
Three years after that, Tai could only, for the most part, watch from the sidelines as his sister and others became entwined in a new cycle of dark plots hatched by the resurrected Myotismon, through various minions and puppets.
But we won. MaloMyotismon's scheme to destroy the Digital World failed. This was probably the greatest victory of our lives...I should be be basking in it like everyone else is...
Instead of feeling like I've failed.
"No. She asked if it was alright if she ate over with her friend TK. I figured why not--it is Valentines Day. She said Ms. Takaishi would be there, though it's not like I don't trust TK..."
"Maybe you shouldn't..." Tai snapped. "Look who..." He stopped himself.
"Huh?" Yuuko Kamiya looked around at her son, surprised at the flash of anger in his voice.
What am I doing? Tai chastised himself. "Look who he's related to" I almost said...TK's never done anything to deserve that. It's not his fault who his brother is...
"Nothing." Tai answered. "Just a little joke..."
Tai couldn't remember the first time he met Sora Takenouchi. It was back at Highton View Terrace--her parents lived next door (though he didn't remember meeting her father, Dr. Haruhiko Takenouchi, until right before they moved out. He was actually surprised she had a father.) When they moved after the 1995 "terrorist bombing" (really a Digimon attack, but nobody believed that at the time), the Kamiyas and the Takenouchis still lived close enough together to go to the same school.
Sora and Tai played soccer together in grade school. They cheated off each other's homework (well, before they met Izzy. And when Izzy told them "Do your homework yourselves! That's the only way you'll learn!"). She forgave him the time he threw up in her favorite bicycle helmet.
When they were sucked into the Digital World, Sora was his rock. The only moment he felt real dispair--the only time he didn't know they were going to succeed--wasn't when Devimon scattered them to the four winds. It wasn't when the Dark Masters had warped the Digital World beyond recognition. It wasn't when he nearly destroyed his partner and himself by forcing Agumon to become the horrific SkullGreymon. It wasn't when Kari was at the edge of death (though that came damn close). It wasn't even when Apocalymon rent them into data packets--it was when Datamon took Sora away from him.
He'd felt lost. The Knight of Courage...was afraid. The prospect of a life without her scared him in a way no rampaging digital dinosaur or effeminate vampire lord ever could.
This was worse.
This wasn't an enemy he could have MetalGreymon stomp into a greasy splotch (Well, not without some major reprecussion, anyway...) It wasn't an enemy he could beat into submission--fighting would only make it worse.
Hiroaki and Natsuko Ishida had been other neighbors of the Kamiyas, and had two sons of their own, Yamato ("Matt") and Takeru ("TK"), who were the same ages as Tai and Kari, respectively. After the attack, the Ishidas divorced, and Natsuko moved away with the younger son (readopting her maiden name Takaishi). Hiroaki and Matt moved too, but still not far from the Kamiyas--Tai didn't see TK again until that day in 1999 when snow started to fall at summer camp.
Sora and Matt hadn't gotten along very well at all. Sora didn't always agree with Tai, but when the chips came down to it, she was always on his side when Matt argued with him.
Dammit, it didn't make any sense. One day she and Tai were as close as ever, the next she was ditching him to go dodge the groupies at the Teenage Wolves concert.
Is that it? Matt's a budding rock star, with tons of loyal fans, women throwing themselves at him, and I'm the same soccer-playing loser I always have been and probably will be? I may be the hero of the Digital World, but that's not something you can impress too many of your girlfriends with.
But dammit...I don't need tons of women throwing themselves at me to validate my existence.
One is all I need...
Let Matt have all the fame and fortune and the Jun Motomiyas. Let him cure cancer and be the first man on Mars for all I care...
Just give me Sora back...
TK chuckled for a moment, then looked down. "I dunno...maybe we shouldn't be so rough on him. I mean..."
TK thought about it for a few seconds, wanting to phrase it carefully. "I don't want to look like we're rubbing his face in it. I mean, think about it: it's a lot like what Tai is going through right now...'
"There's a world of difference." Kari cut him off, with an uncommonly harsh note in her voice. "I haven't known Davis since we were babies. I didn't dump him on a whim for someone I hadn't even gotten along with very well. I didn't..." she shook her head. "I'm sorry..."
Natsuko Takaishi opened the door, entering her apartment with a take-out bag. "Sorry I'm so late, Sweetheart, but the meeting ran a little long...I hope this is all right..."
"It's fine, Mom." TK nodded, frankly both relieved--but a little disappointed--that her arrival had cut off the conversation. It was veering into some uncomfortable territory.
"It smells great, Ms. Takaishi." Kari commented. "Of course, anything is gourmet after my Mom's cooking. I love her, but she does put together some strange recipes."
Natsuko laughed. "Yuuko was the terror of Highton View Terrace's pitch-in dinners. You could always tell which dish was hers, because noone ate any of it."
Kari laughed too. "The worst part was for us--she always took it back home and made us eat it."
TK didn't laugh. Somehow this was making him uncomfortable--he was glad Kari and his Mom seemed to get along well, but at the same time...
They were halfway through dinner when Natsuko's cell phone rang. "Takaishi." she answered. "Matt? Hello, Sweetheart, how are you doing? I heard them playing your latest song on the radio...It sounds great, but I'm biased, of course--I know where you get all your talent from."
TK noticed Kari stiffen.
"You are? Oh really...uh huh...uh huh...no, unless I get a call from the paper, I should be right here. Yes. Oh yes, I quite look forward to that. I realize you're a teenager and enjoy keeping secrets from your mother, but enough's enough..." She laughed. "See you soon, Dear...Bye..."
"What was Matt up to?" TK asked.
Natsuko looked at him brightly. "He's got a night off, so he said he's going to come over and introduce me to this new girlfriend he says he has!"
TK and Kari looked at each other.
"I know, I know...you probably know about it already..."
TK's face drained of color.
"No, no, don't say anything. I realize Matt probably swore you to secrecy." Natsuko grinned. "For what it's worth, he apparently hasn't told your Father, either. Of course, Hiroaki says he thinks he knows who it is."
"Oh...really?" Kari asked
"Well, he thinks it's that cute little girl who followed Matt to summer camp last year, Jun something. Your Father says she seemed really nice. Matt was a little surprised, and was all embarrassed about it, but Hiroaki said he thought they were really cute together--though please, for whatever it's worth, don't tell Matt any of us said so."
"Jun Motomiya?" TK asked. "Her...brother is in our class at school."
"Well, it's a small world sometimes, isn't it?" Natsuko chuckled. "It's Valentine's Day--you should have all gone together. Made it a triple date: you two, Matt and his mystery woman...and Kari's brother and Sora! It would just be so perfect!"
Her phone started ringing again. "Office this time." She shook her head. "I'll take this in the bathroom. Takaishi..." she started talking as she walked off.
"Oh hell..." TK exhaled.
"We could only wish Matt showed up with Jun Motomiya." Kari remarked. "But we know that isn't going to happen."
TK sighed. He didn't like that uncharacteristically bitter tone in Kari's voice; it worried him. "Maybe it's for the best that we talk about this. We've been avoiding this issue since it came up--because it's awkward for both of us, I know."
"It's not really any of our business." Kari said. "That's what all three of them would say."
"Maybe it isn't." TK replied. "But Matt is my brother. Tai is your brother. And we're both...good friends if nothing else. And all three of them have been our friends for years--maybe it isn't our business, but it does affect us."
"I know." Kari agreed after a pause. "It wouldn't bother me so much if I understood it. It just seemed so sudden. So random. Like we were all characters in some cartoon and the writers decided on a whim to do something 'different' no matter whether it made sense or not."
TK chewed a bite carefully. "You don't think Sora is posessed or something, do you?" He didn't really think so, but with the recent experience with Yukio Oikawa in mind...
Kari shook her head. "I only wish it were that simple."
There was a knock at the door, then it opened to admit TK's older brother, Yamato "Matt" Ishida. Like TK and Natsuko, he had the uncommonly blond hair that marked them as being of mixed ancestry: part French on their mother's side. "Hey, Mom, guess who's here?"
"She had a call from work." TK told him simply. "She'll be back in a minute."
"Heh. Mom didn't mention you'd be here."
"I do live here Matt."
Matt held the door open for his companion, an athletic girl of about the same age.
Then Matt opened the door, let her into the Takaishi apartment, and she saw Kari Kamiya eating take-out. It brought a sudden new wave of doubt.
"There's plenty." Kari answered simply, not looking up at her. "I'm sure Ms. Takaishi wouldn't mind of you and Matt sat down and had some, Sora."
"Uh...I'm just surprised to see you, that's all."
"What are you doing here?" Matt asked, trying to not sound like it was a bad surprise.
"She's here because I invited her." TK answered. "Why? Some problem?"
Kari gave a quick glance at TK. She didn't expect him to come that close to confronting Matt with her and Sora right there in front of them--it was actually a pretty pleasant surprise.
"Matt, don't..." Sora started to say. What am I getting nervous about? Don't tell me Kari has some kind of problem with this--Tai didn't.
Natsuko just happened to walk back in at that moment. "Matt, Honey! I thought I heard you! Now where's...Oh! You're Sora, right? It's been awhile." Natsuko looked around really quick, then at Kari. "Your brother came over too?"
Kari shook her head.
Sora felt her stomach sink.
Matt tugged on his collar. "Um, Mom, I think you're a little confused--this is Sora Takenouchi. She's my new girlfriend."
Natsuko looked very confused as she shook Sora's hand. "Oh...Um...I'm sorry. I mean, nobody told me you and Kari's brother had broken up..."
Sora looked away.
"They weren't dating, Mom. Why does everyone think that?" Matt asked.
"Don't take that tone of voice with me, young man." Natsuko chided. "I'm just surprised, that's all--your father was certain it was that cute Jun girl...I'll love the look on his face when he finds out he was wrong."
"Maybe I'd better go." Kari said simply, starting to stand up.
"Huh?" Natsuko asked.
"There's no reason for you to leave, Kari." TK said firmly.
Matt glared at him. "What? Maybe we should, then?"
"Only one of us lives here, Matt." TK replied.
"Oh, just stop it both of you!" Sora interjected. This was making her head spin. "I've got to go get some air--just...you two stop it!"
"Sora!" Matt called as she left.
"Don't..." Sora paused, not turning to face him. "Just give me a little bit. I'll be okay."
When she was gone, Matt glared at TK. "What was that about?!"
"I could ask you the same thing." TK glared back.
"Sora didn't do anything." Matt said.
"Neither did Kari." TK replied.
"What is up with you two?" Natsuko asked.
"Ask him!" Matt bellowed. "I can't believe you're taking sides against your own brother!"
"I'm not taking your side or Tai's" TK almost snarled in return. "But I'm not gonna let either one of you take out it out your guilt on Kari."
"Guilt?!" Matt sputtered.
"Maybe I really had better go." Kari started to say.
"Sit down, Dear." Natsuko told her. "I am clearly missing something here, aren't I? Whatever it is, I don't want it dragged into my living room on Valentine's Day."
"I'm sorry, Mom..." Matt said, the anger in his face subsiding.
"Me too." TK agreed, but not looking as contrite.
He'd be lying if he said he and Tai Kamiya always got along. They physically came to blows more than once during their first adventure in the Digital World; but when they were backed up against the wall, somehow, they always put aside their differences and utterly kicked evil Digimon ass together. They were the only ones to have their Digimon partners attain the Mega level during their adventure. Underneath all the bluster, the competition, and the rivalry, Tai Kamiya was his closest friend in the world.
Their friendship reached its ultimate manifestation during the battle with Diaboromon: when WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon entered into a DNA Digivolution to create the awesomely powerful Omnimon.
Matt, truth to tell, was as shocked at any of them when Sora began to flirt with him. To be certain, just like his bond with Tai, his relationship with Sora had always been closer than one might have realized on the surface. They were by far the most troubled of the eight children sucked into the Digital World in 1999; and it was his insight, the power of his friendship, that once freed her from a darkness that had (only hours before) nearly consumed him as well.
Not that Matt lacked for female attention--especially not after forming the Teenage Wolves, and groupies started to be drawn to the young, good looking would-be rock star. Jun Motomiya was only the most determined of those groupies...and Matt had to admit, underneath all the embarrassment, how could he not be flattered by the attention of the older girl. It's not like she was ugly or mean or anything...even if, like her brother, she might not have been an Honor Roll student.
But her brother Davis is another friend...and sort of my protege, right? He held the Digimental of Friendship just like I held the Crest...that makes getting involved with her as weird as if I fell for Kari...
But Sora? Sora was a class act. Intelligent. Athletic. He'd seen her character, her mettle. He knew that if she was attracted to him, she was attracted to him, the real him, not the glitzy rock star persona he put out on stage.
That didn't mean he didn't wonder what his friend would think of the idea. Tai and Sora had been close for the entire time he'd known them. To a one, Matt and the others--Izzy, Joe, Mimi, TK, Kari--assumed they'd probably get married when they grew up. This was a bombshell that threw everybody off balance (only the fact that they were in the middle of the Daemon/Oikawa/MaloMyotismon crisis kept it from being worse on the entire team). Even Gabumon--Matt's own Digimon--once asked Matt, in hushed, hesitant tones, "You aren't doing this just to piss off Tai, are you?"
In his heart of hearts, he wasn't. But at the same time, Matt still had a question or two he couldn't help but ask himself. You look at TK and Cody, Kari and Yolei, and especially Davis and Ken...their Digimon are all DNA Digivolution partners. It's linked them on a primal level...maybe our link isn't as sophisticated as the others, but Tai and I are DNA Digivolution partners, too. Am I really attracted to Sora because I'm attracted to Sora...or am I somehow synchronizing with Tai's feelings for her?
He tried to ask Sora that once, but she brushed it off. "Tai knows, and didn't say anything. It's Tai, Matt--if he really did have a problem, if he really did have any feelings for me other than friendship, he would have thrown a fit and probably tried to strangle you. He didn't. Tai's fine with it."
In his own heart of hearts, Matt wasn't so sure about that. But if Tai does really love her...what do I do?
What is wrong with me today? It's Valentine's Day...I really should be back there with Matt instead of feeling sorry for myself.
She walked a little bit further, and looked up, realizing she was in the park. She smiled slightly as she walked to the tennis court she knew so well. In these colder times of the year, she did most of her playing inside, but during the spring and summer, she spent many an hour here. She didn't suppress the warmth that spread through her, remembering all the times she looked to see one particularly bushy-haired boy jogging by. Out of habit, she glanced toward that path...
...And Tai was standing there, looking as shocked as she was.
He took the longer way, through the park he'd just jogged through earlier that day. Valentine's Day...gah...the day of Love...When that's exactly my problem...
He never expected, when he passed by the familiar court, to see the person he least expected but most wanted to see standing there, looking just as shocked as he was.
"What are you doing here?" they both asked in unison, which was disconcerting.
"I...erm..." Tai fidgeted, looking at the bag he was holding. "I ran a little errand, and then I was going over to TK's to pick up Kari...she's visiting..."
"I know..." Sora replied, looking embarrassed. "Er...Matt and I went over, and she was there. Um...she..."
"Seemed a bit like she wasn't glad to see us." Sora admitted. "What's in the bag?"
Tai looked at it. "Uh...well...you know how I gave Grandpa Kamiya's goggles to Davis after he saved Kari from Ken that first time he attacked?" He pulled a slightly less battered pair of goggles from the bag. "They're not exactly like Grandpa's, but they're darn close."
"They must have cost a lot."
"A bit..." Tai admitted. "I used the money I'd saved for...erm...something else." He looked away. He didn't tell her the full truth: he bought them with some money he'd originally saved to buy her a Valentine present with...
"Aren't you going to put them on?" Sora asked. "You barely took the other ones off for the entire time you had them."
Tai looked at them. "I'm just not sure I'm worthy of them anymore."
"When Grandpa gave them to me, he said they originally belonged to a friend of his, a pilot who got sick and died. He said...'Courage will give you wings to fly... I'll give you these goggles, so you never forget your courage.' " Tai shook his head. "Except I don't feel much courage anymore..."
"Nonsense." she said. She gently took the bag from him, and pulled out the goggles. She smiled as she placed them on his head.
Tai gulped. At her touch, heat shot through his body.
"There now..." she looked at him. "Now you look like the Tai I know again."
"I never told anyone that story..." Tai admitted after a long pause. "Not even Kari."
Sora blushed. "I..."
He looked away. There were conflicting thoughts and feelings competing for his attention. What in the heck are you thinking, Kamiya? She's dating your best friend...but she's here, right now, with you instead of him, and you just blabbed something you'd never told another living soul. To her.
'Courage will give you wings to fly'...
Courage was my Crest. 'The wings to fly'...like a bird.
"Sora...let me ask you something...and think carefully before you answer." Dammit, maybe she's right. Maybe these things are making me braver already. "If you want me to tell you why I said I don't feel very courageous any more, I'll tell you. But only if you really want me to. Only if you're ready for the answer."
He was being so unusually...evasive. This wasn't like him. At all. Yet he already sounded more...resolute than he had in months.
"I don't...I don't know..."
"Fair enough." Tai nodded. "Then let me ask a simpler question: if you went over to Ms. Takaishi's with Matt, why are you here in the park?"
She exhaled. "Because Matt and TK started arguing. Because TK and Kari were a little surprised to see us, and Matt took it the wrong way, like they didn't want to see us."
Maybe they didn't. Tai thought to himself. I haven't said word one to either of them...but Kari's my sister, and she's always had this...empathy, this ability to read people that's almost spooky. I didn't have to tell her a thing--she just knew. And TK...TK's Matt's brother and is totally in love with Kari. He has to be feeling so stuck in the middle of this...Dammit...
He couldn't help but almost chuckle, though, at the sudden memory of when he and TK worked together on a recent Digimon incident in France, and both ended up a little flustered by a girl they met there. When TK leaned in on the return trip and whispered 'Let's make a deal, Tai. You don't tell Kari about that, I won't tell Sora...'
"I'm sorry." Tai said. "I think that was all my fault."
"No it wasn't..."
What would be the greater courage? To walk away? Yeah, it probably would. Tell her 'Make up with Matt. He's a great guy, and you'll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life if you let this silly incident get between you'.
But...what if I'm wrong?
"It was my fault--because Kari knows the reason my courage has faded. It faded because something's happened that's utterly scared the living crap out of me."
Sora realized her heart was racing. She realized what was about to happen--and also realized that she didn't hope she was wrong. But she had to be..."Tai, you faced down the Dark Masters and Diaboromon. I just can't..."
Tai gently gripped her shoulders and looked into her eyes. A glint of twilight caught the edge of his new goggles. There's no going back now...for better or for worse...because if I don't, I'll be kicking myself for the rest of my life...
"I only had that courage because I knew one person was backing me up. And that person wasn't Kari, or Izzy, or Matt, or any of the others--that was you, Sora. When I came up to you on Christmas Eve, and you said you were interested in Matt, I felt like I'd been racked in the gut by a Mammothmon."
She felt the sting of tears in her eyes. "That can't be...Dammit, Tai, I didn't think...you didn't do anything! You just said 'Oh, okay, great' and walked off like it didn't mean anything to you. Like I didn't mean anything to you."
"Agumon said something about that..." Tai admitted. "He thought I was being 'mature'...but I was seething inside. I tried to be the bigger man...you and Matt are both my friends, Sora, my best friends, and I didn't want to cause either of you any problems. But everyone else caught it. It's eating me up inside."
"Let me finish, Sora. I have to. Because I owe you the full truth--maybe it won't make a difference to you at all, but if I don't tell you...neither of us will ever know what it might mean." He took her hand. "Because you mean everything to me. Because the one thing that makes me scared...the one thing that makes the holder of the Crest of Courage afraid in a way the Dark Masters and MaloMyotismon put together never could, is you not loving me as much as I love you."
She felt like her knees were rubbery. It was like some storybook scene. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to cry or scream or...
Or just stay here like this forever.
"I didn't know...I..." she shook her head. "We've known each other forever, and that's part of the problem. It was part of what made me run away--Ms. Takaishi saw me and didn't realize I was there with Matt--she thought I'd shown up with you." She pounded a fist on his chest. "Why didn't you realize this sooner? Before..."
"If you want me to let go, just say the word."
"Dammit, Tai..." she sobbed. "We're only fourteen years old, and sometimes I felt like everyone else had decided what we were going to do for the rest of our lives already. I wanted to live a little bit. I want to make my own choice and not have everyone else decide for me. Not have Mimi, and Izzy, and Kari, and Matt's Mom give me all those dirty looks. And I didn't know..." She chided herself for a moment, the tough, tomboyish tennis champion blubbering like a weak-kneed girly-girl. "I didn't know you felt that way. You're not exactly Mister Romantic."
"I know..." he agreed. He was on pins and needles--but she hadn't broken his hold yet.
"I didn't know..." Sora said, finally looking back at him, into his deep brown eyes, now moistening. "I'm supposed to be the carrier of the Crest of Love--and I didn't even see it?"
The words hung in the air, like a curse, or a promise. She couldn't decide what to say next; the words couldn't come. Words no longer seemed strong enough--so she kissed him.
For a long minute, Taichi Kamiya and Sora Takenouchi were the only people in the world; there was no park, no Odaiba, no Digital World, just two young people already deeply bonded by shared experience, finding that bond deeper than they'd suspected.
"Whoa..." Tai managed to exhale.
"I do love you, Tai. And I probably always will. But I care about Matt too--and like I said, we're only fourteen." she shook her head. "Maybe the right people for us are ones we haven't even met yet. Or maybe...maybe everyone else is right and I'm wrong--but it's my life to live."
"I know." Tai agreed. His soul and his body both ached for more, but she was right.
"Listen, I need time to think, and I'm going to tell Matt the same thing." she finally said, the flush almost gone from her cheeks. "I'm going to the championship next week--and if I do well, I may be gone for the next month. Let me work this out in my head..."
"Fair enough." Tai nodded.
She did move back to him, and took his hand. "Walk me back to TK's. We'll just tell them we ran into each other as you were coming to pick up Kari...it's not exactly a lie, after all..."
Tai smiled, and they walked off together.
He didn't know what the future could hold, but he felt more at peace than before. He could face it now. Whatever happened, even if she did choose Matt, or someone they "hadn't even met yet", she would still be there for him.
And he would be there for her, no matter what.