He's out playing soccer when he first sees the boy with goggles in his hair.
When Tai looks closer, he notices the boy shares some similarities with himself. The chocolate brown eyes, the striped t-shirt and wristbands, the tennis shoes, sure; but it's more than that. There's a level of confidence and cockiness that comes from his stance, from the way he leans up against the light pole.
He looks over at Tai, and the other boy doesn't even see the soccer ball coming straight for his head.
Sora and Matt visit later, after the emergency room visit. Kari keeps an eye on him before she herself goes to bed. Then, from his cell phone, he gets a text message with a picture of an apple on it. He dreams of the strange boy that same night, of a city that is so clearly New York in America and the world falling to the center of the earth, and the boy, running, always above it all.
The boy is there the next day. Matsumoto Tamasine is his name. The given name doesn't sound natural; Matsumoto motions with his cell phone, showing Tai the kanji for soul and sound. Tamashii-ne.
They find themselves at a cafe and Tai doesn't ask any questions. He just stares into Matsumoto's eyes for a long time, wondering if this is another one of the Legendary Heroes he thought he dreamed about. No, that can't be right. Davis, Takato, Takuya, Marcus, Mikey -- nobody in that group was named Tamasine, though most of them had goggles. All of them from different universes, they had said.
"Are you from another universe?"
The smile on Matsumoto's face is unmistakeable. "Yes."
"Are you another version of me?"
"I have confirmation from headquarters that I am not."
"Do you know what Digimon are?"
"Do you know what QWERTY is?"
Matsumoto answering Tai with another question leaves the fuzzy-haired boy befuddled. He keeps staring as the gogglehead orders another frosty chocolate drink, and the maid-dressed waitress brings it. Who is this boy with the smile and the charisma?
"I still don't get it, man. What are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same for you, Yagami-kun."
"If you're from another universe, what are you doing here?"
"Do you believe you have the power to change your life? I do. The question is...do you?"
Tai thinks back to the stories he's learned how to tell time and time again. "Of course."
"I thought so. Let's walk."
Surprisingly, Matsumoto never pays for the drinks he ordered; they walk down the streets of Odaiba without saying a word, past the soccer field, to the Ferris wheel. As they both board, Tai can't help but notice it's started to snow.
When they both sit down, Matsumoto explains to Tai that his world is changing. His world is colliding with another. This is something Tai has heard before, but no, Matsumoto tells him there is a separate real world and a separate Digital World and they are colliding with this world and the corresponding Digital World. Matsumoto is from an organization that monitors these changes.
"With your experience in saving the world, we figured you'd be perfect." Matsumoto crosses his arms. "You've got two weeks to rewrite the world."
It's been a long time since he's saved the world, but Tai agrees. "I'll do it."
But expectations aren't what they once were. Tai doesn't save the world these days. It's Davis who wears the goggles, and sometimes, he wonders just why he does it.
He continues to have dreams -- nightmares, sometimes. He dreams about Matsumoto and his four friends, whom he's only heard about in passing. He sometimes dreams that they're all in New York City, that there's another girl who speaks words of wisdom and trouble through the corridors. He somehow feels a connection to the boy who dances, but he's not sure why. He sees a tall Hispanic boy shrouded in purple shadows, and a girl with blue streaks in her hair who wears his clothes.
If he wakes up and falls asleep again, he dreams about grassy fields, of a tall woman with long green hair who was given the keys, of blue and white uniforms and rules and regulations and the look in her eyes when he takes her. He wakes up in a sweat and swears to God he knows her from somewhere, but Matsumoto doesn't speak of such things.
Matsumoto takes up residence in Tai's home, which is strange because nobody else can see him. He sleeps on Tai's couch but then checks on him in the mornings where he wakes up and can't remember the woman's name, so sure he knew it just a second ago.
Kari doesn't believe him when he speaks of this mysterious goggle-head. Sora and Matt think he's crazy, but they've thought this for a while. Only T.K. seems to understand somehow, but he can't see Matsumoto either. It finally becomes clear to Tai: the friendships he forged earlier in his life are finally cracking, and right now, Matsumoto might be all he has.
It takes some time and effort, but Tai finds his way back to the Digital World. The time difference is the same there, thankfully, and so is Matsumoto. They travel together, scour every corner they can, even enlist Gennai's help. Nobody gives them any trouble, but they do not find the man named Dvorak or any of his signs anywhere in the land of bits and bytes.
Somewhere in the spaces between folder and server and file, he learns who Matsumoto is and was, of the family he loved and the new family he now loves, of the details he's learned and the adventures he's been on, and every little detail, the way his shoulders tense when he's angry, or how he won't stop drinking those sugary chocolate drinks, or how he'd much rather solve a problem peacefully instead of giving it a few more whacks.
Matsumoto becomes Tama-chan the day Tai learns how he smells, like a mix of vanilla and cinnamon and long-gone adventures. And somewhere in the long and short, as it did once before, the unfamiliar becomes familiar.
"We can't stay here forever." It's what Tama-chan keeps saying. Even though time passes at a different rate in the Digital World than it does, it's still passing. Dvorak must be found. The world must be saved.
Tai's no longer eleven, and he can't convince Tama-chan like he could convince his friends so long ago. The world doesn't work like that. Neither world does. Doesn't he want to try to save his world, to do anything about it? If he wants Sora and Matt and Kari to stay the way they are, he will do his best to find Dvorak and set everything right again. Otherwise, it won't ever stop snowing in Odaiba. On the promised day, everything will reset, and Tai won't remember anything at all.
But Tai's not concerned with any of that at the moment. All he sees are the other boy's slender shoulders in the onsen, the way he sleeps in the downstairs of Gennai's sprawling complex, the way his lips contract when he sips on his chocolate drinks. If he goes back to the real world, he'll lose all of this -- but then again, Tama-chan will never find out what illicit things he's been thinking. He's only fourteen, right? He can't possibly think about things that will affect the rest of his life, or make decisions with an adult weight on them. He's just a kid, even though he's had a few extra years on him from the Digital World time-paradox.
But he's also just Yagami Taichi. Everybody expects more of him.
He almost slips, finally, one night. He wakes up after dreaming of the green-haired girl again, and Tama-chan is sitting over him, arms around him, trying to make sure he's okay. Their noses touch, and Tai's grateful for the darkness so the other boy won't see him blush.
He runs after that. He leaves Matsumoto behind and escapes back to the real world. Find Dvorak. He doesn't know where to begin, but knows it must be possible somehow. It stopped snowing in Odaiba, but the local trains are all running express with no explanation why. When the sun sets, the sky turns green and nobody seems to notice.
He thinks of every clue Matsumoto has ever given him, looking through every book, checking subway routes, even doing extensive research into the sarin attacks of 1995. Three days left and he still doesn't know where Dvorak is. The world gets worse.
He tries asking Davis. Davis no longer remembers who he is.
It soon becomes the last day.
Tai favors reluctance in going back to the Digital World. He doesn't want to obsess over Matsumoto anymore, but he needs to find Dvorak, and he has less than twenty four hours to do so. It takes him three days Digital World time to get to Gennai's, but Matsumoto is long gone, who knows where he went?
Heart broken, he does what he's already done before, and scours every corner of the Digital World, looking for the boy he once called by first name. He stops by Primary Village for a few days, recuperates, moves on. Each step becomes heavier, more hopeless.
He collapses in the desert on day twenty-four in the Digital World. When he wakes up, he's back at Gennai's, and Matsumoto is asleep on the nearby couch. He has changed somewhat -- yes, that's a different jacket, but there are lines in his face that weren't there before.
Tai keeps his distance.
So does Matsumoto.
They sit in front of the fireplace, six feet apart, and Tai tells of how he tried looking for Dvorak, how it was hopeless. Matsumoto nods, then agrees. It is hopeless. There's something he hasn't told Tai from the beginning: Dvorak isn't anywhere to be found. The powers that be have chosen to keep the other world, and Tai's worlds -- both the real one and this Digital one -- will disappear at midnight. He will remain, but he won't remember a thing, being transported to the other world instead. Sora and Matt and Kari and even Matsumoto himself -- all of them will be gone, and there won't be anything he can do about it. Matsumoto will return to headquarters, Tai's memory of him just a will of the wisp.
But no, Matsumoto still wanted to try to look for Dvorak, because Matsumoto believes nobody should be left behind. He should know. The only reason he exists is because of the same philosophy.
"So now what do we do?" Tai asks. The old worlds are gone. His only friend sits at an alarming distance from him. There is nothing left.
Matsumoto stands. "That is up to you, guardian."
And Tai does the only thing he can think of left to do. Because there truly is nothing left. When those whom he once trusted now ridicule the world he has created, all he can do is pray that one little fragment remains. And that one little fragment is the boy who met him that day on the soccer field, who gave him a chance.
Matsumoto has no room to move before Tai kisses him, never pausing for a moment, lost in lust and twenty four days of searching, of waiting and wishing and hoping and not even really knowing what he was searching for until he figured out it wasn't Dvorak all along. And Tama-chan surprisingly invites him in, and they are both awkward but neither one of them want to let go.
They are older than their bodies are, somehow finding a way to make it fit despite their sameness. Tai learns new things about Tama-chan -- the way his back arches, how his fingers dig into Tai's back, the look in his eyes when he lets go, his breath on Tai's bare shoulder as they sleep. In addition, they learn how to sit and how to stand and how many ways to drive Gennai crazy, and at precisely what decibel level of screaming windows shatter.
Tai won't remember, but Tama will, so Tai leaves him all sorts of remembrances, tickle fights and lazy days and way too many chocolate drinks to count. In return, Tama-chan gives Tai present happiness. When he asks about how this happened, Tama-chan tells Tai gender's just a construct, breakable if pressured enough. He's dreamed of the green-haired girl as well, and think she is him from another dimension, or perhaps she created him, or maybe the blonde guy in his own dreams is Tai -- nobody can be quite sure, except the local trains are running express and nobody seems to mind.
They are happy, and this is happiness: the absence of uncertainty, even for a short period of time. Somebody you can really trust. Not laziness, but accepting the other person for who they truly are, all of the infinite versions of them, and them doing the same for you. It is long days in the same room where the shared person's presence is enough.
It happens in the night. When Tai wakes up, it's as if after a long dream. The stars on the ceiling mirror the night sky of a Digital World he's no longer sure of. He turns, and next to him lay two things: a pair of goggles with a red band and a girl, sleeping, peaceful, curled up in the blankets.
She opens her eyes, and Tai sees a flash of green before she smiles at him. "Good morning, Bara'kiel."