Chapter 10

Chapter 10 

            Days and weeks passed relatively quickly and without serious incident.  Summer was rapidly approaching, and final exams were almost over.  So far so good with all of my classes – even math, which Ken was tutoring me in, still a genius even though he was no longer walking on the darkside.  I was probably going to graduate with honours, one of those in the upper echelons of our class.  Top ten certainly, as were Izzy and Sora (though Izzy was likely to be more like top five than ten).  Mimi and Taichi were both sure they wouldn’t quite make the top ten list, but they’d be close enough.  And with the size of our class in our school, that’s impressive enough for most universities.  That, plus the scholarship Taichi was counting on would get him admitted to wherever he wanted if he could keep his grades with the entrance exams.

            Izzy could write his own ticket and pretty much go wherever he felt like.  Both Sora and I had to be a little more choosey about it, but we had good options and alternatives.  Plus, Sora had a couple of tennis bursaries she’d won and saved up.  My parents had education fund saved up for both Keru and I, and I had some of my own money saved from gigs and album sale royalties – meager though that was.

            Mimi was, in a word, rich.  She could afford to go wherever she wanted – wherever in the world.  She hadn’t decided quite yet what she wanted to do, but Joe accidently dropped the fact that she’d been spending an awful lot of time in her kitchen lately and seemed to have her nose in a cookbook rather than a textbook more often than not.  And watching cooking shows on TV.  He warned us that she was going to be looking for guinea pigs soon to taste-test her efforts.

            I just shrugged and said, “At least it’s a more viable career path then Daisuke and his noodle cart franchise.  Not to mention Mimi is better with food than fashion.”

            I’m not stupid enough to say so in her hearing range, of course.  Hey!  I have nothing against pink, but there’s such a thing as overkill!

            As for Joe, he’s really on his way to med school.  He made it through all his pre-med classes and exams, and he’s gotten in at a local children’s hospital as an intern.  We’re all ridiculously proud of him.

            The situation with Taichi’s mother hasn’t improved, but at least it’s calmed down.  Mr. Yagami stopped by one evening to see Taichi (to find out how school was and all), and delivered what my irreverent best friend called ‘the Mom Report.’

            “Dr. Murata says there’s been little of an improvement in your mother’s case.”  He said sadly, sounding bone-weary with life.  “She says there’s a great deal of anger and a lack of understanding about what happened to you kids, and that it all seems to e directed at you, Taichi, because you’re the eldest child.”

            My friend stared down at the floor, shrugging absently.  “Kind of figured that out for myself.”

            His father sighed and nodded gravely.  “That’s what I said. But the Doctor had much more to say.  She thinks your mom may have suffered a breakdown without any of us even noticing, and she suspects she’s suffering from depression, too.”

            Taichi just nodded, seeming to have nothing to say to it, completely apathetic.  I couldn’t fault him for that.

            “What does the doc say about treatment?”  I inquired.  “If you don’t mind my asking…”

            “Well, she’s still in the diagnosis stage, but she says there’s options.  Dr. Murata said she has to determine the exact why and how of the breakdown, and the same of the depression, before she can make any definitive decisions.  For now, she’s recommended continued therapy sessions, and prescribed some mild anti-depressants to keep her calm and hopefully ward off mood swings.”

            Taichi didn’t like the idea of the drugs, but didn’t say anything until after his dad had left.  However, he did bring up what he saw as the root of all his mother’s issues with him – Hikari.

            “She’s never really forgiven me, has she.”  It was more a statement than question, and said so quietly I almost didn’t hear it.  His father looked rather upset but he didn’t deny it.

            “I don’t know, Taichi.  Maybe not.  Hikari’s fragile health has always been a great worry for your mother – and me – ever since she was born.”

            This I knew, but I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly they were talking about.  I opened my mouth to ask, but Taichi beat me to it.

            “Dad, I was what?  Six?  I was just a little kid.  I worried just as much about Kari as you did, but I wasn’t old enough to understand the real seriousness of her condition!”  Obviously traumatized by whatever he was talking about (and I was beginning to have my suspicions), it seemed that Taichi’s mother wasn’t the only one who hadn’t forgiven him for whatever it was he did.  “All I knew was that she wasn’t feeling very well so she stayed home while you and Mom were out, and I wanted to go outside even though I was supposed to baby-sit.  I thought I was doing the right thing taking her with me instead of leaving her at home alone.  I didn’t know taking her outside to play would…would…” he took a shaky breath as his voice cracked and a deep shudder ran through him.  “I didn’t know she’d get worse and collapse like that.” He whispered.  My eyes went wide as I put the pieces together and picture the situation.  My arm slid around Taichi in silent support and comfort.  He leaned into me, sniffling.

            “I know, son.  Your mother knows, too, but…she can’t seem to get past it.”  Mr. Yagami looked extremely sad and resigned.  “We were angry and frightened when we got to the hospital, Taichi, and you did deserve some of that anger for not staying inside like you were told to, but…”

            “I didn’t deserve to be slapped.”  Taichi looked away, and my jaw dropped open.  He’d actually been hit by his mother? A six-year-old who had been given a responsibility beyond his age and had made a simple mistake that turned into a huge one had been slapped, in public, in anger and fear, by someone who should have been consoling the little boy who was probably a hundred times more afraid and upset than she was.

            Right then and there, Mrs. Yagami earned my eternal enmity.

            “She slapped me and then barely talked to me for nearly a month after you brought Hikari home.  Like I didn’t have enough guilt and blame already from myself.”  There were tears in his eyes, but they didn’t fall, and his eyes burned fierce and bright when he looked up at his father almost defiantly.  “I learned.  And I’ve done everything – everything – I possibly could since to care for and protect Kari.”  His hand was trembling as he reached for his glass of water on the table.  “Do you remember what Kari said to me the day you brought her home from the hospital, Dad?”

            Mr. Yagami frowned, obviously trying to recall.  “I…no.  I’m sorry, Taichi, I don’t.”

            “When we were outside, just before she collapsed, I was teaching her how to kick a soccer ball.  We were only a few feet apart, and we hadn’t been doing anything more strenuous than kicking that ball back and forth.”  Taichi rubbed a hand over his face and drank some of his water.  “After a couple of passes, Kari suddenly kicked the ball a little wildly.  I scolded her for not doing it right as I went to get the ball, but when I turned back, I saw…” he swallowed hard, reliving the moment.  “She lay on the ground, not moving.  One of the other kids’ parents saw her collapse and called an ambulance, but I was freaking out.  For a while there, I’d forgotten my baby sister was ill, and there I was getting mad at her for not kicking a damn soccer ball correctly.”  He laughed then, but not like there was something funny and was more than a little self-mocking.  “And when she came home, still very sick and exhausted, the first thing she says to me is ‘I’m sorry, Tai.  I’ll kick the ball better next time!’”

            Oh my god.  I thought, horrified and in complete understanding now of why Taichi is the way he is with Hikari.  True, I’d heard something of this story from Izzy once, but not all of it.  And it was just like our beautiful little Child of Light to not be upset with her brother for what had happened (understanding where others were failing to), and to in fact apologize to Taichi, when – I’m perfectly positive – he couldn’t have cared less about soccer for once in his life.  The guild Taichi must be carrying around all this time must be worse than Atlas with the world on his shoulders.  And now here he is, over a decade later, and his mother still doesn’t see that nor understand.  It was absolutely tragic, and I could feel tears in my own eyes threatening to spill over.

            The elder Yagami was looking just as horrified.  “Did she, really?  My god…I’m so sorry, son.”  His father was pale and a little shaky himself.  “I hope you know…I forgave you a long time ago, and I know how good of a big brother you’ve been.”

            “I know.” was all Taichi said, but I realized it didn’t make much difference to him.

            Mr. Yagami coughed and said, “I’ll talk to Dr. Murata before your mother’s next appointment.  This may help her to understand your mom.”

            And thus ended the latest ‘Mom Report.’

            After Mr. Yagami had left, I threw my arms around Taichi and pretty much hugged the shit out of him.

            “Uh…  Yama?  What’s up?”  He inquired in a puzzled and slightly amused voice.  His arms had come up to hug me back automatically, but I couldn’t seem to let go of him.

            “You needed a hug.”  I mumbled, burrowing my nose into the crook of his neck and inhaling deeply.  Gods, he smelled good.

            “No…not really.”  Taichi laughed a little and absently rubbed my back right shoulder.  “Though I appreciate the thought.”

            “Yes you did.”  I argued, still snuggling.  “So did I.”  Okay that was playing hardball.  He’d hug me all day if I said I needed it, just because I so rarely got all emotion or clingy.

            “Oh.”  Yep.  Hardball.  He was suddenly hugging me like his (or my) life depended on it.  “In that case…”

            We stood like that in silence for a while until I apparently couldn’t keep my big mouth shut and just enjoy him while I had the chance.

            “I didn’t know any of that about your sister, Tai.”  I stated quietly in his ear.  Then I was cursing myself when he tensed up in my arms and tried to pull away.

            “No.  You wouldn’t.  It’s not something I’m particularly fond of thinking about, let alone talking about.”  He responded mildly, reluctantly letting me keep my grip on him (because if he really wanted to get away, he could).  We’re both fighters and we’ve had our share of rumbles, but Taichi’s still just that little bit better than I am.  Plus, I fight dirty, and he knows all my little tricks.

            “I’m just saying, is all.”  I said.  “It’s just that I think I understand you that much better now.”

            He sighed and relaxed again.  “Is that good or bad?”

            I smiled, knowing he could feel it.  “Good.  Of course it’s good.  Why wouldn’t I want to understand you better?”

            “Never mind.  Um…still, despite how nice this is…”

            I frowned.  “What?”

            “I gotta pee.”  Taichi declared, letting go of me and giving me an apologetic pat before rushing away to the bathroom.

            I twitched, laughed, and shook my head.  Of course my best friend’s bladder would exert itself and cut in on my sneaky way of coping a feel.  I sighed ruefully and went to clean up my room.


            The evening of our final exam was not only a relief but hugely exciting.  To celebrate, now that all of us were finished school and exams (even Joe!) we Chosen and our younger Guardians went to a fairly nice restaurant, all dressed up in semi-formal attire, early in the evening.

            I had a hard time keeping my hands and my drool to myself, thanks to Taichi’s very sexy, athletic body sheathed in dark-wash denim jeans and a button-down shirt in a gorgeous shade of bloody crimson red.  Needless to say, I kept getting amused and exasperated looks from both Sora and Joe – being the only two of our group to know how I felt and therefore knowing what they saw in my face and body language every time I looked at Taichi.

            After supper, we trooped over to an upscale club that my band and I often frequent as the night’s live entertainment.  I had to pull a few strings, but I got the younger kids in on the promise that we older, of age ‘kids’ would keep the younger ones away from alcohol and out of trouble.  Not a difficult task, since none of us really do alcohol anyway.

            We had a couple of hours to spend together, at least, before I had to excuse myself to go meet up with my band and get ready to play.  It would be our first gig after exams, after high school, and we were totally stoked about it.

            I didn’t have much getting ready to do since the outfit I wore out to supper was easily changed only slightly to double as a stage outfit.  I wore black, lambskin soft and smooth leather pants, a sleeveless, dark royal purple turtleneck shirt under a silk black shirt that I left completely unbuttoned with the long sleeves rolled up to my elbows, and my favourite pair of black boots.  For the gig, I ditched the silk shirt (no way was I going to get all sweaty in silk under the stage lights) and added a few accessories instead.  A pair of black, fingerless gloves, studded black leather arm bands, and a steel, chain-link belt made me into Rocker Matt for the gig.

            As I made my entrance, the fans screamed, whistled, and whopped their appreciation.  But there was only one fan I wanted to impress that night.

            I sang my heart out.  Old songs and a few new ones, I poured all my unrequited emotions and, yes, hormones into my voice and performance.  It was exhilarating, knowing Taichi was out there in the audience watching and listening, and it was the one way I could safely express everything that was going on inside my head and heart, and even my soul to him.  It was very public and yet still completely anonymous.  It was a release of tension, frustration, fear, worry…

            By the time we were ready to give our last efforts for the night, geared up for the final song, I was already tired, sweaty, and a little sore.  I’d probably be paying for overworking the vocal chords tonight, but it was more than worth it.  However, deciding not to push it, I quickly switched the fast, hard, loud song, we’d originally planned for last to a slower, softer, ballad after a brief discussion with my band mates.  Thankfully, they were all eager to agree, being fairly worn out themselves by then.

            Sitting perched on a barstool, having exchanged my  electric guitar for my acoustic one, I played my last song and sang of love realized, love shared, and love lost, backed up by my band mates.  As I did, my eyes were focused toward the back of the crowded club were my circle of closest friends, my little brother, and Taichi sat of stood around a table all taking in the show as rapt and enthralled as any of the fans in the rest of the crowd.  I don’t know if Taichi knew I pretty much stared at him the entire time, but it didn’t matter.

            As my voice wound down and the last notes ended, followed immediately by the gratifying applause and calls for more from the crowd.  I gave a short bow, waving and smiling winningly as I made my way off stage with the band.  I heard the club’s house DJ make the last call for drinks as I stepped off the stage and turned to head down the hall to the backstage dressing rooms.

            By the time I’d cleaned up, changed back into my shirt, packed up our gear and instruments, and finally went back out to find the gang the club had emptied, closing for another successful night.

            Everyone was waiting for me at their table.  The club staff was moving around, cleaning up, as if they weren’t even there.  I smiled tiredly at the group and plopped down unceremoniously on a stool beside my sexy best friend.  “Hey guys.  Enjoy the show?”  Nods and cheers of assent were the consensus.

            Taichi plunked a large bottle of ice-cold water in front of me and I grabbed at it, greedily gulping down a few mouthfuls.  “Thanks”  I sighed gratefully, rolling my shoulders.  “Needed that.”

            “Not surprised.”  He laughed, thumping me on the back.  “After that performance?  Man.”

            “You were really something tonight, Matt.”  Mimi flicked her long chestnut hair over her shoulder and gave me a wide smile.

            “Yeah!”  Daisuke agreed boisterously.  “Your best gig to date, dude!  Jun will be so jealous she missed it.”

            I rolled my eyes, fighting not to shudder.  Motomiya Jun wasn’t a bad person or anything, she was just obsessed with me.  Well, once upon a time, anyway.  She had been the epitome of ‘fangirl’ at one point, but she’s apparently found someone else to stalk.  She’s still one of my biggest fans, though.

            “And of course you’ll hold the video you recorded ransom.”  Ken added, pointedly looking at the D3 in Daisuke’s hands.

            “Well, duh.”

            Iori was nudging Miyako and pointing at his watch.  She glanced down at his wrist and nodded, pushing away from the table to stand up.

            “We have to get going, guys.  Curfew was extended, but not erased, unfortunately.”  She came around the table and offered me a big hug.  “Great concert, Matt!  And congrats everyone for being done exams and all that!”

            “Thanks, Miya.”  I returned.  I shot my little brother a glance.  “You coming home with us or going home with these two?”  I gestured at Taichi and then at Miyako and Iori.

            Takeru thought about it, then slid off his stool.  “Guess I’ll go to Mom’s.” he decided.  I nodded and ruffled his hair, which he laughingly swatted my arm for then gave Hikari a hug and light kiss on the cheek.  “Not too shabby, brother-mine.  See you all!”  Takeru waved at us and headed out with Miyako and Iori, who gave us all a quiet wave and smile of his own.

            Izzy and Joe left too, followed by Daisuke and Ken.  Taichi and I escorted the three girls (Mimi, Sora, and Hikari) outside to wait for the cab Mimi called to pick them up.  Apparently Sora and Hikari were staying at Mimi’s tonight.

            Sora pulled me aside just before she got into the cab.  “I just wanted to tell you I really thought you did fabulously tonight, Matt.  Feel better?”

            I felt my lips twitch in amusement.  I figured she would know what the gig was for me.  “A lot, actually.  My form of catharsis, after all.”

            The Child of Love smiled fondly.  “Good.  I’m glad it worked.”  She sobered, continuing seriously, “Have you thought any more about telling him?”


            “Just…consider it, Matt.”  She went back to the cab and slid in before I could say anything either way about it.  “Well, good night, guys!  See you soon!”

            “Bye, girls!”  Taichi waved cheerfully.  “Have fun doing our girl-stuff!”

            I snickered.

            We watched until their cab disappeared from sight down the street, then turned and began the fair distant walk home.  Tired though I was, the cool night air was refreshing and relaxing, which I was very much in need of right then.  Taichi seemed to know that without me saying anything.

            “I heard a few new songs tonight, Yama.”  Taichi eventually broke our companionable silence.  “I have no idea when you found the time or energy to write them, but they were really great.”

            Oh boy.  That’s my ego you see preening and puffing up like a peacock.

            Grinning and totally pleased with myself.  I replied graciously, “Thank you.  I did try.”

            Snickering, Taichi tossed an arm around my shoulders.  “At the risk of stoking that inflated ego of yours,” he said wryly, “I’m of the opinion that you’ve never sounded better.  Can I ask what made such a difference?”

            Figuring I could get away with it, I leaned into his one-armed embrace as casually as I could.  “Don’t know.  It’s been a while since I had a major gig like that so…” I couldn’t tell him the truth, so I hedged.

            “Yeah, true.  You really had your fans screaming for more, too.  And I don’t think it was just the music, either.”  His arm fell away – much to my disappointment – and he stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, continuing to walk.  I blinked at the barely hidden tone in his otherwise calm, happy voice.  Nah…couldn’t have been what I thought it was.

            “What do you mean?”  I asked anyway.  If I hadn’t happened to glance at him just then, I’d have missed the tiny frown that flashed across his face.

            “You did the ‘rock and roll sex god’ look rather well tonight, Ishida, that’s what.  I’m shocked that we didn’t have to swim out of the club for all the drool.”

            I didn’t know whether to laugh and be flattered, or grimace and be disgusted.  “Ew.  Thanks for that less than appetizing mental picture.”

            “Sorry.  It’s true, though.”

            I pondered that, torn between an un-Ishida Yamato thing and doing a happy dance that Taichi apparently noticed my attempts at sexy, or calmly pretending I wasn’t ecstatic and horrifically turned on.  Damn, what a choice.  I settled for something somewhere in between.

            “Rock sex god, huh?”  I purred with unabashed vanity.  I even let myself swagger, strolling ahead of him a bit and turning to face him, walking backward for a while as I flashed a smug grin at him.  “Why, Taichi, how nice of you to say so.”

            There was a gleam in his warm brown eyes, something that made everything in me tighten reflexively in response and falter in my steps minutely.  I blinked, feeling rather warm all of a sudden when he stopped walking abruptly and gave me a slow once-over from head to toe and back again.

            “Yama,” he said in a voice that was suspiciously low and husky – and made my whole body tingle pleasantly, “In that outfit, especially those pants, you’re sex on a goddamn stick and you know it.”

            I gaped at him, thoroughly surprised and working on embarrassed.  Blushing furiously, I ceased any posing I was (unconsciously!) doing and looked away shyly.  “I…uh…wow.  Coming from you, that’s…  Thank you?”

            There was a distinctly red tinge to his face and neck suddenly, as if he just realized what he said and how.  Shrugging, he shuffled his foot a bit against the sidewalk and rubbed at the back of his neck somewhat abashedly.  “You don’t need me to tell you you’re hot, Yama.”  He grumbled.

            Oh, Taichi…  I thought with a suppressed shiver of delight.  You’re the only one I want to tell me that.  Aloud, I smiled in genuine happiness and said, “Doesn’t mean I don’t like hearing it from someone whose opinion actually means something to me.”

            “Yeah?”  His gaze met mine in surprise.  I guess he didn’t know that I valued his opinion in this context as much as I did in others.

            “Of course.”  I assured.  I tilted my head at him, and couldn’t seem to help myself, asking curiously, “Yagami, are you flirting with me?”

            His eyes widened and that red tinge turned into a full blown embarrassed flush.  “Uh…not intentionally.”  He held up both hands, as if warding off the idea.  “I was just…  I only meant to tell the truth as I see it.”

            Nodding, I looked away to hide the deep pang of hurt and disappointment.  For a brief moment I had actually believed he was at least intrigued, maybe even interested.  And I had to remind myself now that he wasn’t, he had a thing for someone already, and that he was only human.  If a sexy guy walked by me I’d look – for a second – just as anyone would.  Taichi was no different, even if it happened to be his best friend.

            Clearing my throat, I said quietly, “Sorry.  I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.  I was only teasing you.  Guess I got a little too caught up in my own delusions of grandeur.”  Hoping to distract him from any hints of just how bad I was taking his rejection, I said it lightly with a faint tinge of self-recrimination.  It seemed to work, because we started walking again and he looked relieved, like I’d just let him off the hook about something he figured he’d be in trouble for.  With my good mood dying a slow, painful death, I was in no way interested in making it worse by prodding him to find out what that could possibly be.

            “Yama, you didn’t make me uncomfortable.  I mean, we might be best friends but even I realize you’re hot.  It’s a compliment, is all.”

            I gave him what I hoped was a grateful semi-smug smile.  “Taken as such.  I just, you know…wasn’t expecting you to say anything like that.”

            He rubbed at his neck again, sheepishly.  “Yeah, well…  And what about you?  You were definitely flirting with me, Yamato.  In fact,” he continued animatedly before I could deny it, “You are a shameless flirt, though I sometimes think you don’t realize you’re doing it.”

            I huffed indignantly.  I do not flirt shamelessly and I said so.  “I do not.  Why would I flirt with people?  I get all the attention I want from gigs and performances.”

            Taichi frowned and chuckled, but I don’t think he thought it was funny.  “Oh yes, Ishida, you do.  Like I said, I don’t think you know you’re doing it most of the time.  And it isn’t for the attention.  I know that.  You’re just that kind of personality that enjoys the chase, so to speak, even if you’re not actually looking to catch anyone.”

            “I’m not even going to pretend I understand that.”  I retorted, annoyed with him for even suggesting it, but more so with myself because it was probably true.  Taichi wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t true.

            “Look, I’m no psych expert.  I don’t know why, I just know it’s what you do.”  He stopped as we finally came up to the entrance to my building and waited for me to unlock the door with my key card.  “I’m not being critical.”

            “Okay, so if I am such a shameless flirt, then why do you care?  I mean, you’re the one bringing it up at all.”  I pulled open the door and we made our way to the elevators.  I mashed the ‘up’ button with a thumb.

            Frustrated, though I didn’t know why, Taichi leaned against he wall of the elevator and glared at me.  “Of course I care, Matt.”  Uh oh…  He never called me ‘Matt’ when it’s just the two of us.  “I’m worried about you.  Flirting can be harmless but what if you run into someone who doesn’t take it that way?  Besides which, I know you have a thing for someone, so I don’t understand why you’re still…still…”

            Totally avoiding the subject, I gave him a glare of my own before stepping off onto our floor.  “I thought we agreed not to get into that.”  I led the way to the apartment and got out my keys to unlock the door.

            “I’m not asking for details. I’m just trying to understand.”  He closed the door behind us a tad forcefully.  We kicked off our shoes and hung up our jackets.

            “There’s nothing to explain, Taichi.  If you think I flirt unconsciously with anything that has two legs and walks upright, that’s your opinion.  I don’t even know how we got onto this topic, but I want to thank you for absolutely killing my good mood.”  I growled, tired in body and emotion.  I headed for my room, intending to retreat into myself and my one sanctuary to hurt in solitary peace.  My music.

            Taichi, of course, can’t take a hint – or blithely ignores it, as usual.  He follows me and barges into my room behind me.  I’m thinking it’s good that Dad’s not around for a few days, because as it is, it’s late, and we’re noisy enough without the blooming argument.

            Standing in the middle of my room, Taichi receives the full-whammy of my patented death-glare, with my fists planted on my hips.  “Out.”  I warn, eyeing him threateningly.  I may love him, but right now I’m not in the mood.

            “Matt, I’m sorry, okay?  I wasn’t trying to say…anything like how you’re obviously taking my words.  I said I am worried about you, and I mean it.  Look,” Taichi ran agitated fingers through his wild mane of hair and started pacing my room.  “It seems like you’re flirting, to me, with a lot of people because…  I don’t know, you’re trying to make whoever it is jealous?  Or something?  I just wish you’d talk to me, Yama.”  He turned questioning brown eyes on me, a hurt look on his face that made me feel all guilty – which was exactly as it was meant to do – and thus, angrier.  “I don’t know what’s going on with you anymore because we don’t talk, not like we used to.  Normally you’d tell me things like what’s going on in your life, but…”

            “And I told you that I wasn’t ready!”  I exclaimed, pointing an angry finger at him.  “Besides the fact that it’s completely irrelevant now anyway, I have nothing to say!  I don’t flirt with everyone, Taichi.  That’s your imagination running away on you.  And your concerns are therefore moot!”  My chest was heaving, my hands were clenching and unclenching in an effort to keep myself from belting him.  And the icing on this cake was the guilt I felt because he had a point – the part about us not talking anymore, about me and my life.  It’s been all about him for months now, which (in my opinion) is how it should be.  But in trying not to burden him, perhaps I was causing him to feel like he was being pushed away, shut out, and held at arm’s length.  The last thing I wanted.  For that reason alone I viciously reigned in my temper and tried to speak more calmly with a level head.

            “I’ll apologize for what seems to you like I don’t talk to you anymore.  I admit to trying not to dump my petty issues on you because you have enough to think about and deal with.  Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, in retrospect, but I didn’t do it because I’m trying to shut you out or whatever your brain is telling you.”

            Mistake!  His eyes narrowed and he seized on the opportunity with both hands.

            “First of all, Yamato, I don’t need you or anyone else to coddle me.  Second, you’ve been such a great friend to me through all of this, but it works both ways, in case you’ve forgotten.  Child of Friendship, ha!  I can’t be your best friend – any kind of friend – if you don’t let me!”  A few short steps put him right into my personal space, nose-to-nose and eye-to-eye.  “I brought up the flirting thing unintentionally, but it’s been bothering me for a while.  You don’t want to shut me out?  Then talk to me, goddamn you!  Did something happen with the guy you like?  Did he do or say something?”

            Oh you sneaky little bastard.  Now I was rapidly moving from anger to panic.  I didn’t know what to say.  I couldn’t tell him the truth, but if I didn’t tell him something I may just fracture whatever is left of his trust in me and our friendship.  And at the same time, I just wanted him to go away and leave me alone.  It wasn’t his fault; he couldn’t know what sort of a corner he was backing me into so obliviously.  And he was worried about me.  I could see it and hear it.  Even though, rationally, I understood all that, I just didn’t know what to say and I didn’t think I could deal with this any longer.  I was gonna blow like Vesuvius, and if I did, he was going to find out exactly what my damage was.

            I closed my eyes, took a deep, deep breath, and a large step back from him. Letting the breath out slowly, a tenuous grip on my control, I opened my eyes and gave him the only response I could come up with.

            “I’m going to say this, and then you’re going to leave me alone because I can’t do this, Taichi.  I need to be left alone right now.  So here it is: yes there was a guy.  I was waiting to see if he would be receptive, and if he was then I was going to talk to him, maybe ask him out.  But whether he’s receptive or not doesn’t matter because he likes someone else.  I don’t believe I’ve been flirting shamelessly but as you obviously do, I’ll say that if I have, then it’s because I feel rejected.  Happy?”

            No.  Oh no, don’t you dare.  His face absolutely fell and his eyes got all shiny and moist.  Don’t you dare start crying and feeling all sorry for me, Yagami!  I already feel like shit over you!  Of course, he couldn’t hear my silent, raging pleas, and tears trickled down his face.  Before I could escape he was roughly pulling me into a fierce hug that under any other condition I’d have cheerfully wallowed in.  Next thing I knew, a litany of meant-to-be soothing statements come pouring out of him, muffled in my hair near my ear.

            “I’m so sorry, Yama.  Forgive me for pushing like that!  I…you know I can never leave well-enough alone when I ought to.  And I’m so very sorry to hear that some asshole’s gone and broken your heart.  He doesn’t deserve you, Yama!”

            I let him keep me for a brief moment, then started struggling to be let go.  Looking very much like his heart was breaking on my behalf, he released me and watched me with such gut-wrenching sadness I nearly fell apart right then and there.  Backing away and holding out a shaky arm to keep him away him off, I croaked, “Just…go to bed, Tai.  Please…just…”

            He nodded quickly, finally recognizing that he couldn’t do or say anything helpful right now.  “Yeah, sure.  I’m going.  See?  This is me…leaving.” He headed for the door, pausing only long enough to throw me a glance full of abject apology before closing the door behind himself quietly, all the while looking like the puppy someone had just kicked.

            Thoroughly devastated and guilt-ridden, I stripped out of my clothes, crawled into my bed and pulled the covers up over my head to shut out the world as I broke down and cried like I hadn’t done since my parents’ divorce.


Relevant Episodes:  None!


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