Friday evening was chaotic. Takeru came home with Taichi and I after school, and we three Ishida men – whether my little brother bore the name or not, he was still an Ishida – proceeded to turn the apartment into a disaster area as we sorted and de-cluttered the spare room/office that Takeru and my father used whenever they were home. There were boxes lining the hallway, stacks of papers and books in the living room, and various other articles of junk stashed here and there until we could decide what to do with it.
Once the room was clear, Taichi helped me scrub the place down until it gleamed, while Dad and Takeru began the tedious task of sorting through all the stuff we’d removed.
Sighing, I dropped my cleaning cloth in my bucket of dirty wash-water and wiped at the sweat on my brow with my forearm tiredly. “Man, this place was horrible. I can’t believe how much dust and how many spider webs can collect in such a small room.”
Still scrubbing vigorously at a spot on the floor, Taichi snickered. “It’s not like you could give it a proper cleaning with all that stuff you had shoved in here.” He seemed to feel obligated to point out we were pack-rats.
“Never again.” I vowed fervently. I looked around the room consideringly. “The walls are still boring though. This place has no life to it. Maybe we should paint the walls…”
“Tonight?!” Taichi stared at me incredulously. “You’ve got to be kidding. It’s nearly 11:00 pm!”
“No, not tonight.” I gave him a weird look. “Are you nuts? I’m exhausted! I meant some other day. We could paint the walls and decorate it nicely so it would suit you, don’t you think?” Really think about it, I got to my feet and pondered the idea, imagining all kinds of things that would make it seem like a home to Taichi. “Hmm…autumn colours, I think, with a few modern touches…”
“You are so weird, Yama.”
“What?” I planted my hands on my hips. “I just want to make it more comfortable for you.”
He sighed and shook his head, not saying anything else. Taichi went back to scrubbing and I frowned at him, wondering what that had been about.
“Hey, you two!” Takeru strolled in, whistling softly at the job we did. “Wow. Quite a difference! You should see the number of garbage bags and the amount of paper Dad and I are putting out for recycling.”
“I’ll bet.” I tilted my head. “What’s up?”
“Dad said to quit for tonight. He’s taking the trash and recycling down to the bins right now.” Takeru smiled. “Besides! There’s a late night horror movie-thon on TV tonight! We should make lots of snacks and stay up all night watching it, don’t you think?”
“Yeah sure.” I yawned. “If I can stay awake.”
My younger sibling laughed. “You’re turning into an old man, Yamato.”
I aimed a friendly swat at his head and he ducked, running away with another laugh. “I’ll start making popcorn!” I heard him call.
“Tai and I will be there soon!” I called back, shaking my head. “He’ll probably be the first to fall asleep, too.”
“Yama…you guys really don’t have to go through all this trouble, just for me.” Taichi suddenly said, not looking up at me. “I know it’s going to make you mad to hear it, but its how I feel. I don’t want you and your family to go through all this effort when I’m just a temporary guest…”
“You’re right. You are going to make me mad.” I agreed evenly, beginning to clean up the cleaning supplies. “So don’t go there, Taichi, and insult me. If it’ll make you feel better, we’re just using you as an excuse to finally buckle down and clean this place out.” We weren’t really, but it sounded plausible. “We’ve been putting it off for a long time. Your being here just forced us to actually do it instead of procrastinating a while longer.”
“If you say so. Still…”
“Damn it! Don’t, Taichi. Just don’t.” Frustrated, I hauled cleaning supplies out of the room in a huff. Maybe it was selfish of me, but this guilt-ridden attitude he was riding on was beginning to get on my nerves. When would he figure out that I was just trying to make his life a little easier and a little happier? Why couldn’t he understand that?
As I put away cleaning products under the bathroom sink, it hit me that his nerves were probably worn raw by the prospect of the meeting with his father the next day, and that he was probably angst-ing about it. Feeling like a complete asshole, I let my head bang against the cupboard doors solidly. He didn’t need me being pissy at him for just voicing how he felt about the situation. He needed his best friend and some understanding.
“Matt?” Takeru peeked around the bathroom door in concern. “I heard a thump. You okay?”
“Nope.” I replied with false cheeriness. “I’m just being a completely selfish, horrible best friend, that’s all.”
Now he looked really worried. “What? Why?”
“Don’t worry about it. Go make snacks, Takeru.” I waved his concern away.
“Go! I’m fine.” I got up and made my way back to the spare room, where I found Taichi still sitting in the same spot, his back to the door, silent and unmoving. No…his shoulders were shaking slightly, and I could hear his breathing hitch several times.
Well, if I didn’t feel bad enough before…
I was kneeling behind him and throwing my arms around him before I realized I’d moved.
“I’m sorry.” I sniffed, burying my face in the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
I felt him move, and then his arms came up to hold mine against him, his hands clutching at me like he was afraid I was going to disappear. A deep shudder ran throw his body and I heard a quiet sniffle. “No, I’m sorry.” He said in a watery tone. “I should be thanking you and your dad on hands and knees, and instead I just complain about being treated like a member of your family. I really do appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Matt. I will never find the words to tell you what it means to me, and I’ll probably never make it up to you, but…”
“Stop!” I cut him off, choking on a laugh that was mixed with tears that had gathered in my eyes but never fell. “I know all that, Taichi. Dad, too. We don’t want to be paid back. I know if I ever needed you for something you’d be there and that’s everything I need. You’re my best friend, Tai. Outside of family, you are the most important person in the world to me. You know that, right?”
His grip and arms tightened, and he leaned farther into me. “Yes. I don’t know why you put up with me sometimes but…yes.” Taichi tilted his head away to look at me from the side as clearly as he could from our awkward position. “You know I feel the same, right?”
“Idiot.” I grinned, tackling him to the floor and vigorously trying to tickle me into submission. “Nobody else would put up with me.”
Trying to avoid my fingers and retaliating with his own attacks, he laughed. “That’s true! Ha ha! Damn it! You’re slippery! Quit…wriggling!”
“Ha! I’ve got you! Take that!” I somehow managed to get my fingers near the backs of his knees – which I knew was the one place he was super-ticklish. I had his legs pinned to the floor with my body, Taichi on his stomach, while I tickled him mercilessly.
“Ah! Ha ha ha! Stop! No more! Ah! Nooooo…”
“No! Never! Hahaha!”
“Say. It…” I didn’t even notice my little brother sneaking up behind me. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. “Agh! No! Ta-keru!”
How unfair is it to be tackled by your little brother and consequently ganged up on by him and your best friend? Very.
“Not the hair!”
“Ha! How do you like that?”
“You two are…hahaha! So dead!”
Dad’s voice had us going dead silent and freezing in place in an instant. We three stared up at him innocently. He sighed and shook his head ruefully at us.
“You’d think you were all little kids again. Quit yelling before you annoy the neighbours.” Dad shook his head again. “What’s with all the popcorn in the kitchen?”
We untangled ourselves and Takeru bounced out the door. “Late night horror movie-thon, Dad! Want to join us?”
I collapsed onto my back to stare at the ceiling. “I’m thinking I won’t last long for that. I’m exhausted.” I glanced at Taichi. “Still upset or do I have to tickle you again?”
He stuck his tongue out at me. “I’m fine, thanks, and don’t do that again or I’ll hide all your hair products.”
Content with that, I closed my eyes and smiled to myself peacefully. “Do that and I’ll break your fingers.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“Come on, Matt! Taichi! Popcorn’s getting cold!” Takeru called from the living room. We got up off the floor and grabbed the last of the cleaning stuff to put away before we joined my father and Takeru for the movies.
I was right on both counts; Takeru was out first, and I didn’t last much longer.
I fell asleep nestled against Taichi’s side, his arm draped around me comfortably. It felt perfect.
The next morning, I was up first. I made myself and Dad something to eat for breakfast, and he went hurrying off to work.
“If you or Taichi need me for anything later, call me, alright? Anything at all.” Dad told me as he put his shoes on. I nodded. “Good. I’ll see you all later, then.”
“Sure. Thanks, Dad.” I replied and saw him out. I went back to the kitchen and made a fresh pot of coffee.
Takeru came plodding out from Dad’s room, where he’d bunked for the night. He looked half-asleep with his wild, messy hair, droopy eyes, and the wrinkled pajamas he wore. And did I mention the penguin slippers? It’s nice to see my little brother hadn’t grown up too much yet.
“Matt? Why’re you up so early?” He dropped down next to me on a stool at the counter, peering at what I was doing owlishly.
“It’s not that early, lazy bones.” I sipped my coffee and tapped keys on the laptop in front of me. “I made breakfast for Dad, and now I’m brainstorming ideas of what to do with Taichi’s room.”
“Breakfast?” He perked up and rubbed at his eyes cutely. “What did you make?”
“Scrambled eggs and toast.” I pointed at the stove. “Help yourself.”
Takeru shoveled eggs and toast into his mouth while I perused the internet for paint colours, furniture ideas, accessories, and other such stuff to decorate my best friend’s room. I’d been totally serious about fixing it up to make him comfortable here. A part of me acknowledged that my motivation was highly selfish. I didn’t want him to move out again. I wanted him to stay. Therefore, somewhere in my head, if he liked living here then he wouldn’t leave. Rationalization at it’s best…
Finishing off my coffee, I studied paint samples with a frown. “Keru, which of these reds do you think suit Taichi best?”
Takeru swallowed his mouthful and leaned over my shoulder, peering at the screen. “That one. It has an orange tint to it. Makes it look fiery.”
“Hmm…yeah, you’re right. Good choice.” I jotted the paint colour brand names down on a notepad. “Maybe I should paint my room too. I’m tired of plain white walls.” I blinked as Takeru pulled the computer away from me and navigated the webpage curiously. “Hey!”
“If you did your room,” Takeru scrolled down until he spotted a colour he liked. “I’d choose that one.” He pointed it out and shoved the laptop at me. “It’s your colour.”
Somewhat surprised by his eye for colour, I hummed approvingly. He’d picked a white-blue shade, sort of an icy azure. It was like the colour of blue you get when you burn certain chemicals – like propane – only more vibrant. “I like it.” I wrote that one down, too.
The Child of Hope rolled his eyes at me and took his dishes to the sink.
“You want to come with us, Keru?” I asked, shutting down my laptop. “Hikari won’t be here until 2:00.”
“I suppose. You don’t mind me tagging along?” the brat gave me this grin and suggestive eyebrow wiggle.
“Eh?” I stared at him blankly, not sure what he was implying here.
“You and Taichi.”
“What about us?” I eyed him with a frown.
“Come on, Matt. It’s so obvious!”
“Then I’m oblivious. Enlighten me, please!”
“Can you two be any louder?” Taichi’s voice interrupted. I looked over my shoulder and spotted him standing in the doorway to the kitchen, stretching out the stiffness from sleeping on the floor in an awkward position (I’d hauled him to my room dead asleep last night and dropped him on his futon then dropped myself on my bed not bothering to put on any pajamas).
“Good morning to you too, sunshine.” I replied cheerfully, much to his disgust, pouring two mugs of coffee – another for myself and one for Taichi. He just grunted at me and accepted the mug.
I thought I heard Takeru mutter something like, “Totally oblivious is right…” before he fled the kitchen in a hurry.
“I get dibs on the shower!”
“Brat!” I called after him, shaking my head.
“Vain!” He shouted back, laughing. I scowled.
“I am not.”
“Yes you are. But we love you anyway.” Taichi set his mug down and threw an arm around my shoulders, leaning on me as he studied the laptop screen. “What’cha lookin’ at?”
“Paint colours. Breakfast’s on the stove – though you’ll probably have to warm it up now.”
“Food!” I winced as he exclaimed that right in my ear, then zipped around the counter to fill a plate.
“How do you feel about red walls?” I asked absently, checking out another site.
“Red? What?” Taichi sat beside me where Takeru had been and eyed the hundreds of shades I was looking at. “Whoa. I didn’t know there were that many reds.”
“I’m going to spruce this place up a bit, starting with your room. I thought maybe something like this,” I pointed out a similar shade of burnt red to the one my brother had picked. “And something blue for my room, and then later I thought I’d do Dad’s room and the living room if he agreed to it.”
Taichi ate his toast, watching me with amusement. I gave him a baleful stare, asking, “What?” silently.
“Nothing! It’s just funny to watch you play ‘interior designer.’ Maybe you should think about that as a career.”
“Are you implying that I’m not good enough to make it as a rock star?” That earned him a rather insulted glare, and he sighed, rolling his eyes at me.
“No-oo…you’re a very good, very talented musician, Yama. I’m just saying that when you’re done with that life, you should decorate people’s homes for a living.”
“Hmph.” I turned back to my computer with a huff, not quite convinced, but letting it slide. “Whatever. So, red?”
Taichi sighed again, swallowing the last of his breakfast. “Yamato, I am your number one fan, and I support you no matter what and you know that. Quit being so touchy.” He said as he got up and placed his dishes in the sink before coming back to where I sat. “Let me see…” he mused over the colours on the screen, leaning over me until he was basically draped over my back, his arms tossed over my shoulders and his chin resting on top of my head – covering me like a giant, Taichi-shaped blanket. I made an annoyed sound and tried shrugging him off but he just ignored me. “I think the one you showed me is fine. It’s not too red, and it’s not ugly, so…”
“Okay.” I didn’t dare look at him, instead keeping focused on the screen. I became distinctly aware of how close he was and how…good it felt to have him pressed against me in what was practically a full-bodied hug. I couldn’t take much more of it, though, and was soon standing and closing the laptop – which forced Taichi to get off me and let me up. “Well, the day is not getting any younger. Let’s get ready to go and we’ll go pick up some paint.” I began walking down the hall to my room.
Taichi followed behind me, the shuffling of his footsteps telling me he wasn’t entirely awake yet. I knew he would be once we got outside and he got some fresh air and sunshine. It always seemed to revitalize him – like coffee did for me and every other caffeine addict in the world.
“When exactly are you planning on painting?” He asked me as we changed into some clean clothes. Well, in my case, I was waiting for the shower.
“Soon. Before classes are back in.” I shrugged. “No need to waste such a good opportunity, right?”
Takeru poked his head into the room, flashing a grin. “Shower’s free. And hey! We should have a painting party!”
“A what?” Taichi chuckled, while heading for the door.
“We invite our friends, and whoever can make it helps us paint, and then we have lots of food and stuff…sort of a party!” My brother explained enthusiastically. “We did that for Ken and Daisuke, once, when they got that apartment together. Us younger kids, I mean.”
“Sure. Sounds like fun. We’ll have to ask Dad, but I don’t think he’ll mind.” I left them to discuss it, since I could hear the shower calling me.
As I scrubbed myself down vigorously, I thought about our successors (mine and Taichi’s), as we’d come to think of Daisuke and Ken. Daisuke, who combined both the cardinal attributes both Taichi and I embodied as the Guardian of Courage and Friendship, and Ken, the Child of Kindness and former Digimon Kaiser. Together they were as powerful and unbeatable as Taichi and I, and together they could always be trusted to lead our younger Digidestined friends as Taichi and I always tried to. Taichi and Daisuke were always willing to fight if it was required and sometimes they didn’t really think things through before they acted. Which is where Ken and I came in, even if sometimes, we thought too much. We were the temperance and patience our warrior, goggle-headed leaders needed. In terms of being Digidestined, we were balanced and in harmony this way.
The comparison between our relationships with each other didn’t end there, however. Taichi and Daisuke had similar personalities and temperaments – so much so that Daisuke was often mistaken as a mini-Taichi, his brother, or perhaps a clone. There were differences though. Vast differences. But you had to know both extremely well to see and understand them. Where most believed Daisuke and Taichi were always happy, soccer-freaks with few serious thoughts in their heads, the truth was far from that misconception. It was true that Daisuke often didn’t understand exactly how or why things worked and happened the way they did, but it didn’t matter because he understood the fundamental reasons of right, wrong, and the consequences of each.
Taichi, on the other hand (and it took even me a while to figure this out and accept), was often seriously underestimated in his intelligence. Izzy may have the curiosity and desire to learn everything he could, which made him the Child of Knowledge, but Taichi possessed a wisdom that far surpassed that. Further, he figured out the good and bad of a situation, the possible actions to be taken, and the consequences of each possibility at a speed that left the rest of us far, far behind. This aspect of him is yet another of the reasons that Cherrymon had been able to influence me so easily.
I hadn’t figured out that Taichi could always see the big picture, and that he worked tirelessly toward that goal with firm and sure determination. I thought I could , but I just didn’t see as far or as clearly as he did, which is why he is the leader he is – and I am not.
Also, Taichi has a real knack for diplomacy, and a degree of control of his temper when it really matters. Daisuke…not so much. Daisuke is learning diplomacy, but he’ll never have the knack of it that his idol does. And the kid’s temper…well, it rivals mine, when ignited, though his ignites easier and can flare hotter than even mine.
As for Ken and I, there were actually fewer similarities between us than our best friends. What we did share, though, was our coolness and aloofness with people outside our group and our families – yet even with our families, we’d had to learn to let go of that aloofness and cool exterior. We’d both had issues growing up. My parents and the divorce, and how much I’d resented being split up from Takeru had driven a wedge between me and my parents (Mom for taking Takeru away, and Dad for letting her). Ken’s latent younger sibling feelings when his older brother, Osamu, continued to out-shine him in every possible way, and treated him as lesser before he died, and the way everyone – including their parents – seemed to prefer Osamu to Ken and often overlooked the boy. And then Osamu’s death had brought a whole new pit of self-loathing, guilt, and despair that had cut off Ken from the world…
And thus opened the door for Myotismon (in Oikawa’s body) to infiltrate the Child of Kindness and turn him to the dark-side, to bring out the opposite trait we Chosen also carry but are somehow able to keep suppressed and balanced within ourselves. In Ken’s case, that trait was Cruelty.
A pang of regret and guilt made my chest hurt. If only we’d known he was out there. If only we’d known of the existence of a ninth child…well. The ‘ifs’ would forever haunt us, and certainly Ken never blamed us for anything. It wouldn’t stop me from wishing we could have known and perhaps prevented a great deal of his pain, even if I knew that things had happened the way they did for a reason. Those of us who were the Bearers of a crest had all faced our dark sides at one point, but none of us – except and myself and Hikari, maybe – had ever succumbed like Ken had.
My close call with the darkness in me, with my Crest’s opposite – Enmity – came twice. The first was the one that we all had to face and overcome – the one that made our Crests glow. I had come to distrust Joe, to think that maybe all the ‘accidents’ around him were deliberate so that I would be force to stay with him and unable to search for my brother and/or the others. But then Taichi and Takeru found us, and we found out about that bratty, batty Digimon, Demidevimon, and his attempts at keeping each of us from growing stronger. My crest glowed that day with righteous anger – directed at myself as much as Demidevimon for ever believing Joe – Joe! – was not a friend and was disloyal and a liar. I’ll say one thing for that event: where I had previously ignored (for the most part) and dismissed Joe, I had now gotten to know him and found I liked him. He was reliable (no pun intended) and I could always count on his friendship, something I desperately needed in my life.
It was the second encounter I had that I believe puts me in a similar situation as Ken’s struggle with the Dark, even if it was nowhere near as bad or deep as his had been. And that was the whole doubt of Taichi – his leadership, his friendship, his motivations, and his relationship with Takeru – that let me be manipulated by Cherrymon and Demidevimon (again), and that sent me off on a quest of self-discovery which tore the group apart, however briefly, when we needed to be united more than anything. I saw that strange, black and white reality of the kind that Hikari, Ken, and Takeru had described to us before, though I’d never mentioned it to anyone else, save Sora, who’d nearly fallen prey to it, too. Joe was there then, and Takeru, but neither seems to have made the connection as I have. Even Sora is skeptical, but I often think it’s because she doesn’t want to admit it. The opposite trait for her, after all, is Hate. And on one likes to talk about what that can make a person feel and do.
Other than our experiences in life, there were really few similarities between Ken and I. But it was the possibility of my relationship with Taichi becoming one that was similar to Daisuke and Ken’s that had put my thoughts rolling down this track of reminiscing in the first place.
I thought about it some more as I dried my hair and got dressed, knowing Taichi and my brother were waiting for me. Daisuke and Ken had been willing to leave their families and risk the scorn and prejudices of the world on their own when they moved in together. Their families, thankfully, were supportive, and of course we – their friends – were supportive, but there were still many who had shown their true colours when their relationship status became known. Yet they were strong enough to weather the storm and to keep on living, without apology. I didn’t know the circumstances of how exactly they came to be the lifemates and lovers they are, but I now wondered if such a thing could happen between Taichi and I – could we be that strong and sure? My conversation with Taichi at the supermarket floated through my mind. I had been sincere and truthful in what I’d said to him, but…I still doubted myself. The truth, I suppose, is that I don’t know how I’d react facing that kind of discrimination. And I am afraid of it.
But, as I walked out into the living room, primped and polished, and saw my best friend leaning against the back of the couch with his arms folded over his chest and legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankle… I felt a tightening in my chest, and a giddiness that made me dizzy for a moment. I had to stop and lean against the wall and just stare at him. Thankfully he hadn’t noticed me yet. I couldn’t hear what he and my brother were talking about over the whirring buzz in my ears, but it made Taichi laugh and he just looked so gorgeous that it made me smile.
And that was followed by a mild dose of panic. Why? I think I’d just had an epiphany and I so wasn’t ready for it. The reason I wanted to walk out there, pull him into my arms and kiss him (not totally out of lust, either) was because I wanted to be that person in his life. I wanted that privilege, that honour. I wanted to be able to love him because…I already did.
My heart was pounding like a jackhammer, and I couldn’t breathe. My knees were feeling a little unstable, and I was unbearably hot. All I could think was, I can’t let him see me like this! – let alone Takeru – and I was turning and zipping back into the bathroom before I realized I was moving.
Gee. How courageous am I? Run away and hide whenever I start to feel things I’m not accustomed to or want to deal with yet. Typical, signature Ishida Yamato. I let myself slide down the door to the floor and locked the door before I buried my head in my arms, shacking like a leaf in a gale of wind. I wished, desperately, that Gabumon was here. Other than Taichi the little ‘Mon was the only being in either world that understood me, and I really wished he was with me to say something wise that I needed to hear, like’s always able to do.
I could almost hear him. First he’d be telling me to calm down and breathe, then he’d remind me that Taichi is my best friend – other than himself of course – and no matter what he’d still be my best friend. Then he’d tell me that I was getting worked up for no reason, because haven’t I always loved Taichi? Just because I’ve only just realized what that means doesn’t change anything else, really. Taichi is still Taichi, and I’m still me, and we’re still Taichi and Yamato.
I lifted my head and let it fall back against the door with a ‘thunk.’ I could breathe again, and I’d calmed down enough to realize that Gabumon might not have been right here with me, but he still had the right things to say to straighten me out.
“Thanks, pal. I owe you big time.” I murmured aloud, knowing he couldn’t hear me, but needing to say it anyway. I heaved a sigh, then dragged myself to my feet going to the sink to splash cold water on my face. Looking at myself in the mirror, I assessed the damage and decided that even if I was a tad too pale under the damnable flush of my cheeks, I was still in good enough shape to go back out there. I didn’t know what I was going to do with this new self-realization and Taichi yet, but life goes on.
Opening the door slowly, I straightened myself out and nearly marched down the hall, bypassing the kitchen and living room to go straight for the apartment door. “You two ready to go?” I called over my shoulder, choosing a light jacket for myself from the closet and stepping into my shoes. Taichi and Takeru joined me at the door.
“Yep! This should be fun!” Takeru smiled enthusiastically.
“You okay, Matt?” Taichi asked me, a thread of worry in his otherwise normal voice – which for some odd reason made little tingles run up and down my spine.
“Yeah. Fine! Why?” I checked to make sure I had my wallet and keys.
“I don’t know…something just…never mind!” He shook his head and scratched at the back of his neck ruefully. “I’m just not fully functional yet. My brain’s mush.”
I noticed Takeru glancing back and forth between us, lingering on me for a moment, then a barely hidden eye-roll. I wasn’t going to call him on that – not with Taichi standing right there. Now at least I understood his earlier implied statement, and I dreaded him opening his big mouth when I wasn’t prepared to deal with the consequences.
“Off we go, then!” I opened the door sharply and led the way. “Paint store, here we come.”
Relevant Episodes: Season 01, episodes 23, 43-45. Season 02, episodes 08, 21, 48-49.