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*** Note: Digimon and its characters donÕt belong to me, etc. etc. (Insert standard disclaimer references here.) Also note that certain facts IÕm not completely certain on, such as the blooming period for cherry trees. I know thereÕs ~some~ tree in Japan that only blooms for three days... In addition, I may well have the wrong name for JoeÕs brother. I could have sworn it was Jim, but IÕve seen later references that say his name was either Shen or Jason. Feh. Same character, possibly different name.

This story takes place 3 years after the first season. The ŌnewĶ Digidestined are mentioned in passing, but they play no role in this tale aside from background chatter (As Toei should have kept them!). Maybe theyÕre off fighting the Emperor or whining about soccer games and evil beings that are oh-so-ky00t or something. Anyways, hereÕs my tale. Enjoy! o.o***


"Hiro"

There's another me...

Chigau boku ga iru
Sekaijuu ni afureteru
Chigau boku ga iru
Mirai de matte irun da
Daiji na no wa shinjiru koto
Shiranai doa wo tataku koto sa

Some mornings I wake up from a recurring dream shrouded by the mists of forgetting. I see the pink cherry blossoms, their flowers only in season for three days out of the year, and delicate petals floating to the ground in a haze, like winter's first snowfall. It's peaceful, as I slowly weave through the copse of trees and the patter of fluttering pink. Yet as I enter the clearing, I see the hole in the ground, the fresh-dug grave and the pile of dirt beside it. Although it strikes a pang of fear into my heart to do so, I have to go towards it. The sky slowly darkens as I stand at the edge and peer over; and while the wind surrounds me with an impenetrable flurry of dying cherry blossoms, I see my own eyes within the depths staring back at me. And then I wake up, cold sweating.

***********

It was that time of year again, when the cherry blossoms were in bloom. Their pale pink blossoms were the first thing I saw through my bedroom window as I awoke, and I immediately had to choke back a sneeze. My allergies had steadily improved over the years, not even remotely as bad as they had been when I was twelve and had landed in the forests of the Digital World. However, four years later, the cherry blossoms were still a source of major irritation. I groaned and grabbed a handful of tissues from my stand beside the bed, knowing that the next three days were going to be rough.

I started towards the kitchen, sniffling, and I gave my mother an apologetic grin as I passed. She knew all too well how I had suffered over the years, ever since the age of seven, when my health issues had started to develop -- a trip to the hospital after a classmate had brought in her rabbits as part of the school's science fair. Allergic to rabbits. Sheesh. Mom returned the smile, though sadly, as she continued cooking breakfast.

I was about to sit down when I decided I couldn't deal with suffering today. Normally, I'd want to spend the time studying for high school exams, but I didn't think I'd be able to concentrate very well, anyway. An idea came to mind, and I made my way to the phone and dialed.

"Izzy?" I inquired in a soft voice, once he picked up the line.

"Affirmative," was the reply on the other end. I could hear the tapping of keys, and I knew all too well how divided Izzy's attention would be as he worked through some computer program or another.

"What is it this time?" I asked, chuckling a little. "Let me guess. C++ algorithms? Differential calculus equations?"

"Quake." I heard a bleeping from the other end as Izzy put the game on pause. His voice took on a more concentrated tone as he continued. "You don't sound so well, Joe."

I sighed, resignedly. "Yeah, it's just allergies." Just because I was used to it didn't mean I had to like it. I, for one, was tired, even though the day had just begun.

"Rather unfortunate," Izzy replied. "So what is the purpose of your call?"

I rolled my eyes. Even making small-talk, Izzy's questions were calculated and blunt. I lowered my voice and turned away from my mother, so she wouldn't hear this part of my conversation. "Is the gate to the Digital World open today?"

"Not right now. However, my calculations show that it will reopen around noon. I hope you're not contemplating a journey alone."

I glanced over at my mother, who was seemingly oblivious as she cooked eggs and bacon for breakfast. "If I have to. I just want to get away from this realm for a while. I don't have to worry about cherry blossoms in those frozen lands that Gomamon protects." My voice had only the slightest hint of sarcasm to it. "I wouldn't mind some company, though, if you wanted to join me."

"Prodigious," said Izzy, sounding genuinely happy. "Meet me at the computer lab at noon, then."

"Remember to dress warm. We'll probably get caught in the middle of a blizzard. Just what I need -- a cold on top of my allergies."

Izzy laughed as the old pessimism began to surface in me. As we said our goodbyes, I could hear his computer starting up again, with the sound of dark music and explosions punctuating the background. Ah well. I'll always have that negativity within me, and Izzy will always be a geek, both at least to some degree.

I turned around as Mom was serving breakfast, and she tried to ignore my nose-blowing. "Who were you talking to, dear?" she asked, purposely avoiding eye-contact with me, as she always did when I was ill. I figured it bothered her too much to see her youngest son suffering.

"Just Izzy. We're going out for the day." I sat down, feeling the beginnings of a sinus headache coming on.

"What was that about dressing warm?" she asked, just as my brother Jim came in and sat down to eat. "The weather's been beautiful lately. If anything, you'll want to wear a T-shirt so you don't get overheated."

I blinked, and came up with a quick excuse. "Oh, Izzy and I are going to the mall. You know how those shopping centers are. Always too much air conditioning to be comfortable." Laughing nervously, I silently hoped that she'd buy it.

"You worry too much, Joe," said Mom as she slid into her seat, smiling.

"Yeah, Joe, wouldn't want to freeze to death in the mall," Jim teased.

I took a few bites of my breakfast, though as stuffed up as I was, it had no taste. "Do I look like I want to get any sicker?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "You're not sick, Joe. Did you ever stop to think that maybe--" Mom interrupted him quickly. "Now, boys, eat your breakfast before it gets cold."

Mom and Jim exchanged glances, a gesture I barely caught as I munched on some toast. I could do nothing more than sit quietly, puzzled at that silent communication. It was as if they knew something I didn't, but I didn't ask. It would probably just make me depressed, anyway.

The remainder of breakfast continued mostly in silence, broken only by an occasional sneeze from me. After a while, I couldn't take any more, though I don't know if it was due to the silence, or my allergies, or both. I excused myself and left the table quickly, still trying to figure out the meaning behind Jim's words and that look he and Mom shared.

I got ready to meet Izzy, dressing casually for the day, and packing my duffel bag full of things I'd need. In addition to the usual supplies I brought with me, and already had packed just in case, to the Digital World, I neatly folded and packed a coat, gloves, and a hat. It might have been spring here, but it would be winter in the section of the Digital World that Izzy and I would be traveling to.

As I walked down the hall, carrying my gear, I could hear Mom and Jim arguing quietly in the other room. I paused, out of sight, to listen to that conversation that they wouldn't be having if they'd known I was there.

Mom said, slightly angry, "I've told you before, Jim, your father and I don't want him knowing just yet. It was traumatic enough for him when we lost--"

"Mom, that was ten years ago," Jim broke in quickly. "Don't you think he has a right to know? He probably wouldn't be quite so neurotic now if you just told him."

Mom sighed. "He's never been quite right since the accident. With all the pressure he's under now, studying for exams, I don't want to put any further stress on him."

The remainder of the conversation washed over me. Accident? Never quite right? A chill ran down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Jim's question echoed in my head: Don't you think he has a right to know? Izzy's parents had pondered that very question so many years ago, he had told me, while they were keeping it a secret that they weren't his real parents. I didn't want to think about that implication, though no less than a dozen worst-case scenarios began to come to mind. I was frozen in place, as if rooted to the ground by ice, unable to move until a sudden sneeze overcame me.

I quickly walked by, as if I'd been casually passing. Mom and Jim stopped their arguing suddenly and looked wide-eyed at me as I passed the doorway. Sniffling, I said, "Okay, I'm off. I don't know if I'll be back for supper. Don't wait up." I didn't wait for a goodbye from either of them before rushing out the door.

***********

Because it was Saturday, I had to sneak into the old elementary school where the gate to the Digital World was located. Getting in was an easy enough task -- Matt had shown me long ago how to jimmy open the front gate using a paper clip. It was keeping out of sight of security that was the problem. I'd be meeting Izzy in the computer lab, an area that was more closely watched than any other section of the school because of all the high-tech equipment there. Luckily, no one was about as I tiptoed through the halls and slipped quietly into the computer room. Still, I kept quiet and out of sight of the door, just in case. One never could be too careful.

After a few minutes, Izzy arrived, carrying with him his yellow laptop, as usual, and a bag bearing the logo of Yolei's parent's convenience store. "Salutations," Izzy said, his dark eyes darting about carefully. "I've taken it upon myself to procure snacks for today's excursion. And this, for you." He produced a small box from the bag and tossed it to me with surprising agility. Maybe computer games do improve one's coordination.

I glanced down at the careful Japanese writing on the box--allergy medication. I gave Izzy a smirk and commented, "Thanks. I took an antihistamine before I left. With my luck, it'll just make me sleepy." I moved to toss the box back to him, but he shook his head.

"Keep it." Izzy sat down at the terminal which, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, housed the gate to the Digital World, and I packed the box of medication within my already bulging duffel bag. As I watched over his shoulder, his fingers flew over the keyboard at a blinding rate until he established communication with the other side. An image of Tentomon, Izzy's Digimon companion, took up the computer's screen.

"Izzy!" the buglike Digimon exclaimed happily. Even now, I wondered how the thing could talk when it didn't have a mouth. "It's certainly good to see you again!"

"Greetings, Tentomon," said Izzy with a smile. "I trust that things are well on your side of the universe."

"Today's been a quiet one so far. Will you be joining us in the Digital World?" asked Tentomon.

Izzy nodded. "Affirmative. Joe and I will be traveling to Gomamon's section of the grid. I've modified my downloading program, so I will be able to transport you along with us, should you wish to accompany."

"Certainly, Izzy. As you know, the cold has no detrimental effect on me." I smiled to myself -- Tentomon could be just as technical as Izzy sometimes, although not to such a degree.

"Okay, prepare yourselves," said Izzy, with that bright, half-crazed look in his eyes he always got before running an important computer program. He typed in a few more commands, and the computer began to glow.

I closed my eyes when the download began. Izzy had once given a technical explanation about how our bodies' code was being converted into a string of raw data and then recompiled, but those words did little to reassure me. However, I'd overcome my nausea while travelling through those gates some time back, and once I was on my way I found that I could enjoy the trip. Getting into the Digital World gave the same feeling as riding a roller coaster -- once you were over that first hill, the rest of the ride was exhilarating.

Izzy, Tentomon, and I landed, as I'd predicted, in the middle of a snowstorm. My arms instinctively wrapped around my body before I could gather enough wits about me to remove my winter gear from my bag. Izzy as well donned a coat that he'd brought with him, and soon we were on our way. I slipped my Digivice from my pocket and tapped a few buttons on it. Already, I could begin to feel my sinuses starting to clear up in the cold, pollen-free air.

"This way," I said, pointing, knowing that the flashing buttons on the Digivice would lead us to Gomamon, my own Digimon companion. Although he was easy to find, he was still a few miles away, and we would have to trek through the snow. Izzy and Tentomon nodded, and we were off.

***********

"So what made you decide to want to come to the Digital World today?" Izzy inquired after we'd gone some distance. Up until then, we'd been catching up on events with Tentomon and discussing the adventures of the new Digidestined.

I shrugged. "At first I just wanted to get away from the cherry blossoms. My allergies go crazy whenever they're in bloom. It's the worst three days of the year for me."

Izzy nodded. "However, you imply that there is something more to your reasoning than just an escape from reality."

I sighed, partly because Jim's words from the morning still weighed hard on my mind, and partly because I wished Izzy would talk like a normal kid sometimes. Fourteen years old, and already speaking like a college professor. "I had that dream again last night. And my brother said something strange today."

"What would that be?" Tentomon drawled from beside my head. He had trouble walking with his bug-like legs in the snow, so he flew between us as we talked.

I didn't really want to talk about it, but I spoke anyway. Otherwise, I knew Izzy and his insatiable curiosity would never let the topic go. "He and my mother were arguing about some sort of accident, and whether or not I had a right to know about it."

Izzy's brow furrowed, and he nodded, knowing all too well the similarities between what I'd told him and his own situation. His parents had been killed in an automobile accident, and he'd been adopted by relatives. It wasn't until he was ten years old that his adoptive parents finally told him the truth. "I see." The inquisitive boy suddenly became quiet.

My heart picked up in pace somewhat, and I began wondering if I'd upset him. I tried to compensate and only ended up babbling. "Yes, I know that's what happened with you, and I know it's something you still think about a lot. I can't help it if Jim and Mom were arguing over the same things your parents had once argued over. Who knows if it even is the same thing? Everyone says Jim and I look so much like our father, so I just can't be adopted. I ...." I paused, watching Izzy's expression as he stared at me. I knew then that I'd gone too far. "I'll stop talking now before I really make you mad."

"Quite the contrary," Izzy replied, his words betraying his expression. "You've aroused my curiosity. Did they say anything more?"

I thought back to the snippet of conversation that I'd caught. Sighing, I said, "Jim said I probably wouldn't be so neurotic if I knew. And Mom mentioned that I was never quite right since the accident, which was almost ten years ago. It makes me paranoid to think about what they might mean."

"That's interesting, Joe," said Izzy as he trodded along through the snow. Tentomon just hovered, silent. "I can think of two theories that might explain why your mother has kept silent on a matter for as long as she has. Perhaps it is a minor encounter that someone should have told you about long ago. However, because they waited so long and neglected to mention it, they're now too embarrassed to say anything at all."

I nodded. "What's your other theory?"

Izzy looked away from me, eyes to the ground, as he spoke: "Perhaps it's something quite traumatic. Earth-shattering news that they don't feel you're yet ready to know."

My heart sank, and I retreated back into my thoughts, but not before murmuring sarcastically, "Thanks, Izzy. You really know how to make a guy feel better."

***********

We were nearing the caves where my Digivice's signal pointed, and a split second before it began to beep frantically, I felt something heavy land on my back, knocking me face first into the snow.

"Joe!" came an overexcited and familiar voice above me. Of course, to me it was muffled because of the snow in my ears. "Joe, you're back!"

I groaned as I felt around for my glasses, which had been knocked off in the fall. Once located, I blew snow off them and worked to pick myself up, although that heavy weight was still clinging to my back. "Hey, Gomamon," I said quietly. "Good to see you too."

"Well, aren't we a sourpuss today!" Gomamon was laughing, and as I turned, I could see over my shoulder those large green eyes of his, shining with mirth. He always was a happy Digimon, even when the odds were against us. He was the best among us when it came to morale, and I always seemed to need his cheering up the most.

I smirked and knelt down, scooping up a small handful of snow.

"You wouldn't," Gomamon dared.

"I suggest we remain out of the way," I heard Izzy remark quietly to Tentomon as the two edged away slowly.

"Oh, I would," I said just before I rubbed that handful of snow into Gomamon's shock of orange hair.

Gomamon leapt over my shoulder, landing in the snow in front of me. "Of course you know," the seal-like Digimon remarked, grabbing up snow in his paws, "this means war!"

For the first time all day, I laughed as Gomamon and I threw balls of snow back and forth at each other. At the end of it all, we were both cold, tired, and thoroughly excited to be together once again. The last time we were reunited, the Digimon Emperor had tortured Gomamon badly, and I'd found him nearly frozen to death in the snow. Even after all that he'd been through -- then, and the years before when we were fighting to keep the Digital World together -- his spirit had never failed him.

"It's good to be back again," I murmured, falling back breathless against a nearby cluster of rocks. Gomamon just winked at me and settled into my arms, and we kept each other warm until we managed to catch our breath.

***********

We'd gathered some materials together for a fire, and Gomamon had called upon some fish from a nearby break in the ice for our lunch. Izzy and Tentomon had finally returned, after the two companions had caught up on old times and new exchanges of knowledge. As we huddled around the fire, Izzy produced the snacks brought over from the real world. Grilled fish, prawn chips, and Coke were hardly a healthy lunch, but I was in no position to complain. I had more pressing issues bothering me than simple nutrition.

It was something Gomamon had picked up on quickly, perhaps even before our reunion, but he waited until we were finished with lunch to bring the subject up. "Joe, what's bugging you? You've hardly said a word since you got here."

"He's been contemplating a ten-second conversation overheard surreptitiously before he left the house this morning," Izzy broke in, speaking before I had the chance. I glared at him, an expression he caught, and he silenced quickly. "Oops."

Nosy Gomamon latched onto Izzy's comment, however, pressing further. "And why did it bother you, hmmm?" he asked, climbing into my lap.

I proceeded to explain the situation again to my Digimon companion, and he listened quietly with little in the way of joking commentary, to his credit. I included Izzy's own theories, and once I was finished, Gomamon was quiet for a few moments.

"Tell me, Joe," he said finally. "Do you remember any sort of accident from ten years ago?"

"To be honest," I replied slowly, my glasses reflecting the fire's gleam, "I don't remember much at all." It was something I'd never even told Gomamon, who'd been my first true friend, those four years ago when we were on our own in the Digital World. The gaps in my memory weren't even something I dwelled on myself, forcing the fact out of my own mind.

Izzy frowned. "Nothing?"

I was silent, wrapping my arms around my knees and resting my chin against my arms. "Well, there is one thing," I said quietly.

"Go on," said Izzy. All eyes were on me now, making me feel more than a little self-conscious.

I began to sniffle, as I had during my allergy attack earlier in the day. Perhaps there was mold growing somewhere within the cave. I wiped my nose with my sleeve and continued, "There was a funeral, I don't know whose. Mom was crying pretty hard. The graveyard was surrounded by trees and flowers, and I remember Mom holding onto me tight enough that I couldn't breathe."

Izzy blinked. "And before that? Do you recall anything at all before that memory?"

I shook my head. "Nothing."

"The first thing you remember is someone's funeral?" Gomamon asked, his voice thick with concern. "Oh, Joe, how sad."

I tried to shrug it off, to give a quiet laugh. "Hey, it's no big deal. It's not like I know any differently." Even as I said it, though, I knew it was a lie. I had known differently. But somehow, I'd forgotten.

Izzy pulled out his laptop and began typing away on it. At first, I was almost offended that he'd play computer games while I was spilling my innermost secrets; however, after a second I noted that wrinkle in his brow, and I knew he had an idea in the works regarding the current situation. "Joe, what time of the year was it? Do you happen to recall?" he murmured, mind divided.

Once more, I shrugged and tried to ignore the stares of our Digimon companions. "It was spring, I think."

"This may take a while," Izzy muttered as he tapped rapidly at the keys. "I have a lot to search through, and the connection to the Internet from here is insufferably slow. I told Dad I needed a faster modem."

I chuckled and grew silent, then, as Izzy and Tentomon scoured through files on his computer. Who knows what they were searching for? I certainly didn't. Meantime, Gomamon padded over beside me.

"You going to be okay?" he asked, concern bright in those big green eyes of his.

I tried to smile reassuringly. "Of course I am, buddy." I only wished I could believe it myself. I stared into the fire, falling lost into my own thoughts.

A gasp from Izzy broke my reverie. "Joe, I think you should get over here." Both Gomamon and I jumped, and we quickly rushed to Izzy's side. He turned the laptop's screen towards us so we could get a better look.

Staring back at me was a school photograph of a round-faced young boy, perhaps six years old, with the headline above the archived Internet news article stating, "Boy, 6, Dies in Coma after Fatal Collision." The boy's eyes, staring back at me, were my own. "This can't be," I murmured, unable to comprehend the implications. "I'm not dead."

Izzy shook his head quickly, spiky red hair flying about his face. "Read further."

Funeral arrangements for Kido Hiroyuki will be held at the Odaiba Cemetery. Hiro is survived by his parents, older brother Jim, and twin brother Joe.

My hand moved to cover my mouth as I whispered, "Hiro." The threatening darkness began to consume me, and I didn't have the strength to fight it off. Hiro... my brother... My twin. Why couldn't I remember? And, even more, why hadn't anyone told me? Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of something black, flickering.

"Joe? Joe?" I couldn't tell whose voice was calling to me. I didn't care. All I could think about was that article, about Hiro, and about how Old Reliable Joe had turned out to be not as reliable as he'd once thought, not in his memory at least.

A blackness began to surround me, suffocating, and the ground opened up beneath my feet. I gave myself willingly to the abyss, and I heard Gomamon shrieking as I fell.

***********

The Digital World can be an unpredictable place, and the swallowing darkness was one such phenomenon. Both Matt and Sora had faced the darkness, four years ago, and both had to use their entire force of will to escape. Once I was in, I had none of that will. No urge to even think about escape. It was bliss to wallow in self-pity. Off in the far distance, I could hear my friends -- Gomamon, Izzy, Tentomon -- calling my name. I curled up into a ball and buried my face in my arms, content to become as small as possible in order to avoid being detected.

Then, a voice beside my head uttered, "Joe?" This particular voice was unfamiliar, childlike, and I raised my head to see who it was. Within the depths of the abyss, a little boy was standing before me -- looking identical to the way I used to when I was a child, only he wasn't wearing glasses. I knew who it was.

"Hiro?" I murmured.

The boy laughed and skipped away a few paces before turning around once more. "C'mon, Joe! I hide, you seek!" An inkling of a memory began to grow in the back of my mind. This was somehow familiar, too familiar.

I rose to my feet, towering above little Hiro -- I was nearly six feet tall. Despite that, he grinned at me as if I were a playmate his own age, and ran off down a blackened corridor. Some voice in the back of my mind chided that it wasn't safe to explore so deep within an unknown cave. That voice was of no concern to me now. My only concern was to retreat further from the voices of my friends, which were drawing steadily closer.

As I entered the cave, nothing but blackness surrounded me. When I looked back, there was no light to indicate any beginning or end to the darkness I'd stepped into. I called out the name of my dead brother, and was greeted with his laughter. "Come find me, Joe! Come find me!"

"Hiro, I'm not in the mood for games." I couldn't see where I was going, but I walked in the direction of the boy's voice. No, the blackness wasn't quite so ominous. Not as scary as I'd normally believe it to be, if I were in the right state of mind. Something within my heart was keeping me from ... feeling.

As if calling to me from the depths of my mind, I heard Hiro laugh, "Betcha can't find me, Joe! Betcha--" Hiro stopped quite suddenly and began to scream.

That broke the spell. I was off in a run, heading towards the screams. The darkness rushed by me as I sprinted across a ground I couldn't even see, towards nothing but more black ahead of me. I tripped, skidding across my knees, and when I looked up, there was Hiro, interposed among the darkness. I could see him clearly -- the blood pooling behind his head; the blackened fragments of rubber where the car had skidded, trying to stop in time; the way Hiro's chest was oddly caved in. And, worst of all, his shrieks resounding within my ears, cries that were seemingly neverending, and steadily drowning in the blood that filled his lungs.

The remains of the memory slammed me at full force.

It wasn't until I felt a warm hand upon my shoulder that I realized I was screaming too.

***********

Gomamon was spooked, terrified because this time he just couldn't protect me. I'd nearly lashed out at him when he touched me, stopping myself from striking him barely in time. My Digimon buddy kept his distance, and it was Izzy instead that came to me. He knelt beside me and placed an awkward hand upon my back until I stopped screaming. I didn't hit him; I just sat breathing raggedly, until I was able to speak again.

"I remember," I whispered through a throat hoarse from so much screaming. "The accident. I was there."

Once I realized my friends were there, I looked up, afraid that they might also see the vision of Hiro just after the accident. However, it was gone.

Izzy patted my shoulder, and spoke in a tentative voice. Emotions and consolation never came easy to him. "It's okay, Joe, you don't have to do this." Gomamon and Tentomon nodded in concurrence.

I turned to Izzy, and the look in my eyes must have shocked him because he went dead pale. "No, Izzy, I do have to do this. It's the only way." I shrugged off his hand and pushed myself to my feet. I was angry, because I knew the entire sixteen years of my life were defined by this moment -- a moment forced out of my memory by my parents, and by Jim, who had dutifully kept his silence.

I began to tell the story, though I really hadn't been able to recall the complete memory. As I spoke, the events unwound themselves. I thought vaguely that Izzy might consider it 'streaming memory,' so named after a computer media program, if he'd known. And Izzy, Gomamon, and Tentomon could only watch in stunned silence as I ranted.

***********

The day after Hiro's accident, I found myself in the hospital, holding tightly to Jim's hand. I didn't understand what was happening at the time, although the look on Jim's face showed that he understood completely. He was older -- he knew what would happen to Hiro. He understood that when you die, you don't come back. The only death I'd seen was that plant my mother never watered, and it had turned brown.

We were commanded to wait out in the hall. Mom had been crying -- why had she cried? Why did she cling to me so tightly at the scene of the accident? Why couldn't she stop Hiro from screaming? Those questions and more raced through my mind. I had to know. Jim put up a struggle as I tried to disengage myself from his tight grip on my hand; however, in the end, I broke free and ran off down the hall, to where Mom and Dad were visiting Hiro. Maybe he'd be well enough to play. Hospitals made you better, after all, didn't they?

The door was closed tightly, but, as I'd always been a tall boy, the windows were high enough for me to peek into. Hiro was lying upon the bed, with so many tubes going into his head and throat. He was bandaged, and although his chest had regained some of its former shape after being crushed by the car, I could see the machine forcing him to breathe. Mom and Dad spoke with the doctor, who only shook his head grimly. Something the doctor said made Mom break down again, and she cried as she kissed Hiro's forehead. Dad held her as the doctor flicked a switch on the breathing-machine, and my brother's chest stopped its regular motion of breathing. '

Wait!' I thought to myself as I peered in. 'That machine is keeping Hiro alive! Without it, he can't breathe!'

I suffocated as Hiro did, although he passed away quietly. My own breath was harsh and loud, coming in squeaky gasps that were audible even through the closed door. Mom turned from my brother, raced to open the door, and she took me into her arms as I labored for breath.

"I told you it was asthma!" she cried out angrily to my father, who was also a doctor. There was no concern for Hiro in her voice -- only me. I could see Dad shake his head, but he didn't argue. He was busy watching Hiro. Why couldn't Dad make him better?

"Mama," I gasped. "Mama, Hiro can't -- I can't breathe--"

She shushed me and rocked my body, and the doctor came to my side. He alerted a nurse out in the hall, and she returned with a needle. He stuck it into my arm, and I quieted down, feeling quite sleepy after a matter of seconds. Dad and the doctor conversed quietly, and I could hear a vaguely angry tone in his voice, though I couldn't make out the words.

All the while, Mom rocked me close, cooing in my ear, "This didn't happen. This didn't happen," over and over again, until even I began to believe it.

***********

The funeral was the next morning, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Mom held me close to her, arms wrapped around my chest. Dad and the doctor at the hospital had given me some prescription or another, and I was out the same day. Jim had been scolded for letting me out of his sight. And Hiro -- Hiro didn't come home with us. I knew, as I entered the cemetery with my family, that Hiro was in a box, never to return.

Mom covered my eyes as the tiny casket was lowered into the ground. I struggled against her grip, but unlike Jim, she was too strong for my six-year-old body. "This isn't happening," she whispered to me. "Little Joe, this isn't happening." Her words made me choke again, my chest constricting uncontrollably. Once more, I was wheezing, though not with the fierceness of last night's attack.

Mom led me away as I struggled, both against her and to draw a breath. "It's the trees," she explained to onlookers as she passed. I was too young to understand that madness in her eyes. "The cherry blossoms, he's allergic."

"Dear," Dad interjected, but he was cut off quickly.

"He's allergic," insisted Mom. "Watch over Jim. I'll drive him home so he can take his medication and be well again. We'll all be well again after today."

"Mama," I squeaked. "Mama, what about Hiro?"

"You're delirious," she said to me as she helped me to the car. "He never was, little Joe. He never was."

***********

"He never was," I finished. My friends stared at me for some time as my angry story trailed off. None of them knew what to say, not even Gomamon, who could always be counted on for a witty remark. I looked between them all -- Izzy pale and shaking, Tentomon staring at the ground and rubbing his head uncomfortably, Gomamon appearing on the verge of tears.

I turned my head, and a wave of dizziness passed over me. "I ... don't think I can stand up anymore," I muttered, feeling myself starting to break down. Izzy swiftly started forward and hooked an arm around my shoulders to keep me from falling to my knees at full force. My three friends, one human and two Digimon, stayed close as, for the first time ever, I cried for my brother Hiro, for my mother who'd been mad with grief, and for myself.

"It's okay, Joe," Gomamon said quietly, rubbing his paw against my shaking back. "It's not your fault."

I fumbled my glasses off, and someone -- Izzy, I think -- took them from my hands. I covered my face tightly to hide the tears that just wouldn't stop flowing. I cried for what felt like an eternity. The last time I broke down this badly was when Leomon had been fatally struck by MetalEtemon, back before we'd defeated the Dark Masters.

Finally, though, the tears did taper off, leaving me with swollen eyes and a shivering chest. Despite the grief, I felt ...somehow cleansed. I took my glasses back to bring the world into focus once more, and I laughed sheepishly. "Sorry about that, guys," I said quietly, pushing away the remaining tears on my cheeks with the backs of my hands.

"That's what friends are for, Joe," replied Gomamon, forcing a smile to his furry little face.

We were then silent for a time. Izzy finally broke the silence. "I am intrigued by one thing in particular," he said, rubbing his chin as he mused. "I'm certain there must have been pictures, or some reminders about your brother, hanging around for at least a little while afterwards."

I shook my head. "Mom didn't let me out of bed for days," I replied. "She claimed I was too sick, and she kept me asleep. Sedated," I spat out with a faint tinge of anger to my voice. "She probably got rid of everything while I was sleeping off that 'illness.' When I was well enough to get out of bed again, everything about Hiro just seemed like a dream to me. And, as the days passed, that dream was forgotten."

"But you remember now," piped in Tentomon.

I nodded, one fist clenching tightly. "And I'll never forget again."

***********

We left the cave, and Izzy and I stayed in the Digital World for altogether too long. On a normal day, I'd want to be home early in order to study for exams, but this night I didn't want to leave. I wanted to escape the real world for as long as I could. It was late when we finally said our goodbyes to our Digimon companions, who couldn't travel through the dimensional gate to join us. We promised we'd be back soon, though, and I had a feeling that something in the future would draw us back, under less favorable circumstances.

Izzy and I trekked through the darkened streets of Odaiba, the only two human beings out at that hour. Izzy glanced at his watch and muttered the time, 1:24 a.m. Other than that brief exchange, we walked in silence, side by side. Nothing more really needed to be said until we reached Izzy's apartment complex.

"What are you going to do now?" Izzy asked, pausing by the entrance.

I shrugged. "I'm going to have to talk to my parents. Find out why they took such measures to keep me from remembering my own twin brother."

"Yes, I do think that would be the most appropriate course of action. Best of luck to you." Izzy turned, and we were about to say goodbye when he suddenly smiled. "I just noticed something, Joe."

"What's that?"

"You're not sneezing."

It came as a surprise to me as well, since Izzy's apartment was surrounded by cherry trees. I blinked, and sniffed at the air tentatively. There was no itching, no stuffiness, no watering eyes, nothing. I grinned. "So I'm not. Go figure."

I walked alone the rest of the way to my home, placed the key in the door, and snuck in quietly. I had hoped no one would be awake, that I could creep to bed in silence, but I could see a light coming from the kitchen. I dropped my duffel bag with a soft thud.

Entering the kitchen, I saw Mom sitting at the table, and she rose to her feet when she saw me. "Joe, dear, I was so worried. You usually call," she whispered, voice soft and a little frantic.

Old Reliable Joe didn't want to be reliable this particular night. Old Reliable Joe was angry. I took a breath and walked to the table to sit. It was time to reclaim my life.

"Mom. We need to talk. Now."