Disclaimer: I don't own digimon.

A/N: Hey everybody! I'm not gonna make any excuses on why this took so long, truth be told I just didn't feel like working on it. Broken's been just annoying me lately. This chapter got really hard to do because I had to work Rei in somehow and well, it messed up everything! I've been really trying to focus on my other writing, original stuff so this has become very much second priority. Actually third, school's been kicking my ass lately so I have focus there a bit too. Stupid GPA, damn it to hell! Okay, so anyways, I'm trying, but I'm sorry when this comes out crappy.

Broken

"Tera?"

Tera whimpered lightly in her sleep, but didn't sir. Her forehead was dotted with perspiration and her breathing came in shallow gulps of air.

She inhaled sharply, using a damp washcloth to wipe Tera's burning forehead.

"Tera?" she repeated, touching the younger girl's lip and feeling the chapped skin and a sharp rush of air on her fingertips. There was no doubt that Tera was asleep.

Natalie sat back in her bed, sighing and muffling a sob. Why was this happening? Tera had become so sick in the last week; Elijah had made his announcement about moving to Oregon with his brother, and Aaron had declared he was moving to Japan for his junior, and maybe senior, year of high school. They were the two biggest constants in Tera's life, and they were both leaving her.

"Serves you right, getting sick," Natalie spoke into the darkness, hoping that if there was a chance in hell Tera was listening, that her words would provoke her into fighting the sickness. "It's your own fault, running away like that. You'd think you would have gotten it through your hard little head that you should come inside when it starts raining, not stay out for three days straight. You're gonna be grounded forever."

Natalie inhaled sharply; her sinuses stung, and tears were building up in her eyes. "Damnit Tera, you better not die now, because I'm not taking care of you for nothing!"

Nothing, that's all it was. Tera was sick, nothing new. A simple cold destroying her already failing immune system. Tera slept while Natalie cried herself to sleep at night, her mind always churning on everything she was losing. At this point it was just her sanity. The thin emotional control she had was tearing. Elijah breaking up with her, Tera getting sick, the anniversary of her abortion, her mother's phone calls as her seventeenth birthday approached, everything was throwing her over the edge. Her throat spasmed and her stomach muscles clenched, as she fought a wave of nausea.

Calm down, breathe, she cooed to herself, the way Elijah would. The bastard.

"Natalie?" The door creaked open and a head of pale blond hair peeked inside. Taylor's whispery voice cracked as she whispered the name.

Natalie set down the cold cloth in a bowl on the bedside table and looked at Taylor with tired eyes. "Taylor, sweetheart, what's wrong?" In the depths of the dark, Natalie's drawled Southern accent, the one she tried so hard to hide, peeked through uncontrollably. "Did you have a nightmare?"

The nights that had come and gone while Tera was out on the streets had brought Taylor's nightmares back in full force. They still plagued her, even after Tera's return four nights ago. Tera's absence from the girls' room left Taylor as vulnerable as ever.

Taylor didn't answer Natalie's question. Her small mouth opened and closed again, like a fish gasping to breathe. Taylor had withdrawn again as her eyes found Tera struggling for life. The space above her bunk bed upstairs held the wrong body. The breathing sounded wrong, never labored, never shallow and short. No one checked on her at night, and no one cared when she woke up sobbing.

"Do you want to stay here tonight? Tera doesn't have anything contagious." That had never stopped Taylor before, but Natalie added it anyway. Tera coughed into the silent night air and the sound hovered around them.

Taylor looked uncertain; letting her lavender eyes flash between Tera, the door and Natalie, though she made sure their eyes never met. "You don't mind?" she whispered in a cracked voice. It was a muffled broken sob, no more then a squeak and shudder from her small body.

She smiled. "I never have."

Of course she minded. Her bed wasn't made to hold three teenager girls. It wasn't made to hold their three frail bodies. The mattress was too hard and the pillows soaked with sweat too fast. It was too small, too vast, too hot, too cold. Too much like home. Home was a tiny girl curled up in her lap, pressed into her chest as she stared up at the ceiling, with her back against the headboard. Home was Tera coughing the night away until her chest ached. Home was Elijah down the hall with music blaring into his headphones until the world was drowned out and he came to kiss her goodnight. Home was Aaron sitting beside Tera, whispering he loved her into her ear when her breathing faltered.

"Tera's going to die," Taylor sobbed into Natalie's shirt. "She said she lives on borrowed time."

Natalie's heart quickened and sank when Taylor's cracked voice reached her ears. Her hand smoothed the younger girl's hair, running long fingers though pale silky locks. "We're all on borrowed time. It just depends on how much you asked for."

Taylor took in Natalie's scent, breathing deeply into her shirt. "I don't think I ever turned in my request forms to borrow any."

Natalie froze, then laughed. Taylor made a joke. Her voice, cracked and hurt and thick with tears, giggled out a joke into the front of Natalie's shirt. Natalie sighed once more. "It's late, no more metaphors."

"No more metaphors," Taylor repeated. They fell into a comfortable silence, Taylor's hand gripping Natalie's shirt while Natalie sang softly, rocking her.

"You promised to never leave, Tera," Taylor whispered. Natalie ran her hand down Taylor's back, feeling the bone underneath the thin fabric of her oversized tee shirt. The shirt was Matt's. "She went to the wrong person."

"I guess."

"Don't you leave me either." The words were near silent and hung in the air as a painful reminder about how little they meant. "I just want to borrow some of your time."


"Do you think Tera's mad at me?" Riley asked, as she swung her legs freely from the top branch of a tall tree at the edge of Gennai's property. Kari stared up at her from a branch slightly beneath it. TK was sitting on the ground, gameboy in hand.

"Why would she be mad at you?" TK replied, question for question. "Not only have you not done anything wrong, but she also hasn't been conscious for a week." He didn't see Kari unconsciously flinch as he stared at the tiny gameboy screen, a gift from his parents at Christmas.

Riley stared down at TK's blue baseball cap, wondering what she could throw at him to get his attention away from the blasted little toy. He had been playing for an hour straight. "Well, it's just that I came here and sorta kicked her out of her own room."

"Not really," Kari spoke up. She stood in the tree, searching the skyline. "Tera's been sleeping in Natalie's room for about a week and a half. She hasn't been feeling well. So it's not like the bed was being used."

Riley picked a seedpod off the tree and snapped it open, spilling tiny brown seeds into her hand. "Does she get like this a lot?"

"Comes and goes," Kari answered, grabbing the branch above her and hoisting herself up. As her hands moved above her head, her shirt rode up revealing the pale flesh of her stomach. Riley couldn't help but stare at the healing cuts across her stomach, and then at the ones on her wrist. They were mostly just scars now; she said she didn't cut that often anymore. Riley couldn't help but wonder why anyone would cut at all.

"My scars aren't that interesting," Kari interrupted her stare, as she straddled the tree branch. The branch was about two feet above Riley's and less then a foot in front of it. TK looked up at her words.

Riley blushed and looked away. "Sorry, I didn't realize I was staring."

"You were," Kari replied with a shrug.

Riley tried to look away, but found her eyes wandering back to the lines in Kari's flesh. "Can I see them?" She wondered aloud, biting her tongue immediately after the words popped from her mouth. Kari just stared at her with a confused expression while TK gawked at them with his eyes wide. His brain churned, getting ready to catch Riley as Kari threw her violently from the tree. Or at least, that seemed like what would happen.

Tentatively Kari held out her arm, the one where the stitches had been. The marks were deeper and darker, up and down her flesh. Riley stared. "Why'd you do that?" she asked, nervously rubbing her own arm.

"Why'd you run?" Kari countered. Riley didn't answer, just stared with her brow furrowed. "Because I needed to, because I wanted to."

Riley held up her hand, cutting Kari off. She closed her eyes and pressed her lips together; trying to block out the memories Kari's words couldn't help but conjure up. "I never wanted to."

"I had to," Kari replied. "Or I would have died."

"That makes no sense."

Kari turned on the branch, swinging both her legs in front of her as she stared at the ground. She really didn't owe Riley an explanation. But she felt compelled to give one anyway. "This is the part no one seems to understand. When you cut, you vent. Cutting is fine, unless..." She met Riley's eyes. "Unless you do it with an intent of killing yourself."

"Are you trying to justify yourself?" TK snapped from his seat on the ground. The game had been abandoned and he stared at her with icy blue eyes.

"No," she spat down at him, gripping the tree hard. "I don't need to justify myself to you or anyone for that matter, but especially not to you!" She threw a fist full of seeds down at him.

"Stop it," Riley grumbled at their childish bickering. It was constant, except when they were being best friends. Sometimes, it seemed like they could be something so much beyond lovers and friends, but then there were times like this. The sporadic nature of their relationship did little but confuse her, and Riley just wanted to get on with the conversation. She formed her next sentence slowly, trying to find the right words. "Did you...have you ever-with the intent of killing yourself?"

"Sure," Kari shrugged. "Twice. Once in Japan. I landed myself in the hospital and then a psych ward. Then right before Christmas, I needed to get stitches. It was a fun time for all."

"How can you say that so easily?" Riley asked softly, dumbfounded.

"If you had ever tried to kill yourself, you'd know!" Kari growled. "It takes a lot to do it and not be shamed into doing it again!"

"What makes you think I haven't?"

Kari rolled her eyes. "Haven't what?"

"Tried to kill myself." TK and Kari both gaped at her, and Riley knew that she had made a serious mistake. "Not that I ever tried-"

"You lying whore!" Kari interrupted. The outburst caught Riley by surprise, not that it should have. She should have expected no less of a reaction from Kari. "Here this entire time, you've been passing yourself off as a regular, sane person, when you're just as nuts as the rest of us."

"Riley." TK's soft voice echoed from the ground. She looked down at him, forcing herself to take in his eyes. It was easier to look at him while staring into those azure pools. "You tried to kill yourself?"

Riley froze, unsure what to say. "No, I was just snapping." TK looked doubtful. "You know, just being stupid to counter Kari's point." TK nodded, slowly, not sure whether he believed her or not. Riley refused to look at Kari.

TK leaned back in the grass with a groan, obviously done with the conversation. "I have homework to do and chemo tomorrow. I feel like hell."

"Then why are you out here?" Kari snapped. "Why the hell aren't you ever resting? You're constantly frickin' pushing yourself. It's probably just adding to the cancer." She hit him with another seed and added, for good measure, "Dumbass."

He glared at her, but ignored her questions, dismissing her instantly.

"She's right, TK," Riley spoke up, standing. "If you don't feel well, go lie down."

TK stared at her, annoyed with her motherly prodding. "Okay," he groaned, unsteadily climbing to his feet. "You girls coming?" His eyes flickered between them, but stopped on Riley.

"No," Riley grinned, leaning against the tree branch directly in front of her, on which Kari was sitting. "Bye," she called, blowing him a kiss.

It took a minute before he was out of sight, weaving between the trees in the grove behind Gennai's house. "It takes a lot," Kari whispered when he was gone. "Not to be shamed into doing it all over again."

Riley's face fell as she stared off in the direction TK went. "Yeah, well, it works just as well to pretend you didn't do it."

"And that does what? How long did it take to convince yourself you never did it, because I have a lot of nightmares that only involve that!" Riley didn't answer. "Oh, still trying." Riley looked up and watched Kari shake her head. Her brown hair spilled loosely from the ponytail that held it back.

"I was on anti-depressants. They worked well, 'cept everything was hazy a lot." She rubbed her clammy palms together. "It was funny. When I started at Vail, no one knew I was on anything. They thought I had ADD."

Kari laughed. "That is funny." They fell into a comfortable silence. Then, "Did you really change everything for TK?"

"No, not really. I wanted so badly to forget everything; I thought changing myself would be best. So, I hung out with different people. Dressed different. Talked different."

"You were reborn. Lucky TK."

"Well, I ain't! I can tell you I ain't!"

Kari swung herself down from the tree. "Good, because if all this crap you've been feeding us is fake, I'd kick your ass and leave you here." She stared upward waiting, and Riley jumped down. "Crazy whore."

"Bitch."

"Skank."

"Hoe."

"Wench."

Riley laughed. "Did you just call me a wench?!"

Kari turned away. "I win." Riley rolled her eyes and followed Kari back to the house.


There was a knock at her door, but no pause to allow her consent before the door opened. Natalie knew only one person would do that. Anger swelled in her chest as she turned her back to the door, and back to the open physics book before her. "Hey," came the low, soft voice that caused her heart to swell and an angry fire to burn in her chest.

"Hey," she forced out hollowly, refusing to look up from her homework.

"How is she?" he asked, getting straight to the point. She could hear the rattle of his chair as he rolled himself to her bed.

"She's not well, Elijah," she replied lamely.

"Has she woken up at all?"

"Once, earlier. I made her eat and then she fell back to sleep."

"Why didn't you come get me?" he demanded desperately.

She twisted in her seat so she could look at him, and he took in her face with heavy sadness. She looked so tired, with dark bags under her eyes, and her entire face seemed completely lifeless. He knew she was not eating. Tera gave her an excuse to skip meals and not eat later.

"She doesn't want to see you," she snapped. The words caused him to withdraw his hand from Tera's feverish forehead in a snap. "I asked if she wanted you, she said no. She made it very clear that she didn't want you here."

He rubbed his forehead. "Understandable."

"You're damn right it's understandable, you bastard!" she barked at him.

"What should I do?" he snapped desperately. "Natalie, what do you think I should do? Tell me, because I'm sure you have all the answers!"

"You can go to hell, you heartless ass!"

"Is that what we've come to? Stupid name-calling? I thought we were better than that."

"And I thought my past didn't matter to you, because yours didn't mean a damn thing to me." He fell silent and stared at her with his stormy blue- gray eyes. "Damnit, this isn't about us."

"Yes, it is, this entire thing is about us. It's about me."

She smiled and shook her head. "The old 'it's not you, it's me' doesn't work. It only hurts more."

"It's not an excuse. It's the truth. I lo-"

"Don't say it, because you don't!"

"I DO! Hear me out!"

A moan erupted from the bed, drawing their attention away from each other. Tera twisted in the blankets, holding her head. "Why are you yelling?" She croaked, her voice thick with sleep and breaking from lack of use.

Natalie got up from her desk, grabbed a bottle of water, and sat down beside Tera. "Sorry, sweetheart, I didn't mean to wake you." She helped her sit up and held the bottle to her chapped lips. Tera drank greedily. "How are you feeling?" Out of the corner of her eyes, Natalie saw Elijah wheel himself back, away from the bed.

Tera moaned and pushed the bottle from her mouth. She labored to breathe, and pushed herself into Natalie's chest, closing her eyes tightly. It took only minutes for her to fall back to sleep, but by then Elijah was gone. "That's a good girl," Natalie whispered as she carefully laid Tera back onto the pillows. Tera only whimpered in her sleep.

Natalie followed Elijah's path out the door. She rapped lightly at his door.

"Come in."

She opened it to find him sitting besides his bed in his jet-black wheelchair, rubbing his eyes. "I do believe you were about to tell me why everything is your fault," she whispered into the room, standing in the doorway.

He looked up at her, looking worried. "You'll give me the chance?"

"Don't waste it," she replied, stepping in and closing the door.


"Jesus, Tai!" Matt gasped as he heaved himself onto the roof through the boys' room window.

Tai stared down at him and offered a hand. "That's right bitch, scream my name," he laughed and hauled the blonde youth up onto the roof beside him. Sora sat a few feet away, watching the pair with a cocked eyebrow and merriment in her eyes.

Matt took a swing at Tai. "Jackass."

Tai put up his fists. "Come on, Matt. Losing your edge or what?!" Without warning, Matt shot forward, sending them both to the ground. "Wow, Matt, if you wanted me down on my back, you only had to say so. Though I'm more of a top than a bottom."

"But that's not what you said last night," Matt pleaded, playing along. Standing up and rolling his eyes, he dusted off the dark blue shirt he was wearing. "I don't know why I put up with you."

Tai held up a hand and Matt hauled him to his feet. "Because you have no other friends?" Tai suggested, turning his back to the grumbling blonde and sitting down beside his girlfriend, who was slurping down a soda can. She held it to his lips as Matt fixed himself behind her and placed his chin on her shoulder.

"No, I think it's so I can steal your girl."

"Again?" Sora asked over her shoulder. That was enough to get Tai fuming.

"Again," Matt winked.

"Okay, fun's over!" Tai snapped.

Matt recoiled off Sora's shoulder. "I do believe we won."

"That we did," she laughed and high-fived him.

"Very funny, you two," Tai glared, crossing his arms over his chest.

Matt pulled the soda can from Sora's hand. "Hey, it's not our fault. You started the game; don't play unless you can hold your ground. I didn't make the gay sex jokes." He gazed upwards to the stars. "But damn I wish I had, you're just so hot Tai. I want your body."

"Most people do," Tai laughed, wrapping his arm around Sora's waist. Sora laughed into his shoulder.

"It's really nice up here, Tai," Matt commented as he swigged the soda and stood. Planes buzzed overhead, shaking the roof. No doubt they were from the base a few miles away. The stars twinkled in a heavenly glow, lighting the moonless sky. The grounds of Gennai's home were dark and silent, much unlike the house.

"Yeah, it's great. I haven't been able to come up here in a while, with school and crap." By crap he meant soccer; somehow, he had been persuaded into trying out for the team. The season was now over, so a lot of his time had become free. A sudden wind blew open his unbuttoned shirt to reveal his firm chest and stomach.

Matt stripped off his own shirt. "It's too hot for March."

Tai grinned and hooked his finger under the hem of Sora's shirt. "Your turn."

She slapped him away, glaring with fire in her eyes, a shine that had taken a long time to come back. "My shirt is going to stay on. I'm quite comfortable."

Matt rolled his eyes at her. "For such a hot girl, you really are no fun."

"Is that the line you feed all the girls?" Sora smirked.

Matt grimaced. "Only the innocent ones I have yet to corrupt." He grinned at her.

Tai cocked his head. "Taylor's pretty innocent."

Matt turned his back to them, closing his eyes and biting down on his lip. "Taylor's far from innocent, unfortunately," he whispered, unheard by both Sora and Tai. He looked back up at his friends. Friends, it was hard to accept the word... He swallowed his hesitation. "No, Taylor's not like that," he laughed. "She's got me stringing along way more than the other way around."

"So whipped," Tai scoffed.

"Don't I know it."

"So what is it? Are you a thing or what?" Tai asked, lying back on his elbows.

"A thing?" Matt repeated softly. "I dunno. Maybe. Taylor kinda has her own demons to deal with first. I'm just waiting."

Sora's eyes narrowed. "That's very good of you."

Matt grinned. "I'm just that kind of guy." Sora looked put-off by his joke. "Ah, come on, Sora, I've been nice. Why you gotta be hating on me?" He sat down beside her.

"Never mind," Tai called, closing the subject. "Whatever you've got with Taylor, congratulations, man. You seem happy, and that's good. You're not out getting stinking drunk."

"Thanks, Tai, I think."

"So what happens now?" Sora asked suddenly. The two guys sitting at her sides just stared at her skinny beautiful form. Her face had softened since she had been speaking to Matt, but her eyes held something wistful. "Our stupid crests have glowed." She didn't bother to hide her disdain for the crests. "We could go back if we wanted. We're done here. Japan's a plane away."

"I'm not going back," Tai shook his head. "I don't have anything to go back to. My aunt certainly doesn't want me or Kari back."

"Yeah, what's with you and Kari?" Matt spoke up. Sora sighed, knowing that this was not a good subject. It opened an entirely new can of worms that she didn't want to deal with.

Tai shrugged, apathetically. "I don't know. She's got her own crap going."

"Last I heard, it was some pretty serious crap."

"Like you're one to talk about serious crap."

"I'm not the one slitting my wrists."

"She made her own decisions."

"You know, before your parents died, she couldn't make a single decision without your input and consent." Tai clenched his fists. "I'm glad you finally let her grow up, but you didn't leave her a lot of experience."

"What do you know about it? TK's the same way!"

Matt shook his head. "TK wrote me out of his life. You wrote Kari out of yours."

Tai looked like he was going to lunge at Matt. Sora placed a hand on his chest. "He's right."

Matt looked shocked. "I am?"

"So you're both ganging up on me now?"

"No, we're not!" She shook her head. "But Tai, come on. All you do is ignore Kari, or ride her case when you do talk to her. When was the last time you did talk to her? Do you even remember?" Tai didn't answer. "I didn't think so."

"Can we talk about something else?" Tai whispered, fury radiating off of him.

"Fine," Matt cut in, halting the conversation, not wanting to further the growing rage between the lovers. He looked at Sora steaming and glaring at Tai. Tai's breathing has quickened, like he was fighting tears, and his fists shook. Suddenly, Tai stood and walked to the edge of the roof, disappearing over the side. Matt and Sora could only watch him go.

"Ass." Sora whispered.

"You don't honestly think that," Matt snapped, breaking her from her gaze after Tai. She didn't say anything, just shook her head, angrily. "What about you, Sora?" he asked, trying to break the tension between them. "Are you going home?"

She looked thoughtful, staring down at her hands. "I don't know. Probably not. My mom just got remarried." Matt looked surprised. "I know, I haven't told anyone yet. Well, the guy is kind of an ass. and hey, your dad's doing the US tour thing. He'll be this way soon. We can all see him."

"Just stretching for a reason to stay?" Matt gave her a lop-sided grin.

She blushed in response, bashfully lowering her head. "I guess I am," she whispered, her voice tight in her throat. It barely rose over the chirping of the cicadas. "I want to stay, but I don't really have a reason."

"Sure you do," Matt said. "You belong here, otherwise you wouldn't have been sent here."

"I'm going to stay," she affirmed, sounding more like she was convincing herself than telling him. "I like it here. It's...safer. Besides, I'm closer to these people who I haven't even known for a year than I was with my mom, or anyone else in Japan." She touched the top of her head tenderly, looking regretful.

"Yeah, those Americans are annoyingly friendly," he grimaced. "Too much Prozac."

"I think that you need some of that, you being such a nasty little pain," she joked with a grin. Something ached inside his chest. He had forgotten how much he missed her smile. He forced a laugh, trying to block that old ache. "And you? Are you homeward bound?"

"I might go back, maybe. It's not like I made friends here. Aside from Taylor, and then Tera putting up with me, there's nothing holding me here. I have no obligation."

"If you were sociable, you wouldn't have this problem."

"But that would require being social." He laughed and she shook her head.

Something washed over her face, a look of longing, and her eyes seem to cloud, suddenly guarded. "I heard you playing. A while back," she whispered.

"Oh yeah? What?"

"My song." She spoke the words with so much hurt.

"Oh yeah. I had found some of the sheet music. I was just fooling around. TK warned me not to play it, I'm sor-"

She cut him off with a hand to his mouth. "You know I forgive you, right?"

Her hand slowly fell from his lips. "-ry," he whispered. "What?"

"You know I forgive you, right? For the break up. I don't understand it, but I forgive you."

"Why?"

"Because I have to. Because I have to move on, and so do you. We both have, but neither of us have accepted it." He stared into her crimson eyes, glistening in the light of the stars.

"Except Tai?"

She breathed out a heavy sigh and shook her head. "I love Tai, yes. But... Matt, it's been so hard with you here. Living with you, seeing you everyday, seeing that you didn't care when you hurt yourself, when you hurt Taylor, or when you hurt me. It hurt so much. Tai began as my distraction, a reward to myself, to keep me busy, to stop me from throwing up my life. He's become so much more, though he scares me because he's still in pain. And so am I. I don't want to be hurt again, but he's not you."

"You... still love me?"

"Yes."

"It still hurts to see me?"

"Not so much anymore." He sat back dazed, shivering, as the air grew colder. "I see you with Taylor. I see how affectionate you are with her, and I'm jealous. But I see how far you keep yourself from her. She wants you Matt, she does. But you're here punishing yourself because you've screwed up. Don't punish her."

"Is that what I'm doing then?" She nodded. "She thinks I'm frustrated with her. What if I do something wrong? There's barely a first chance with Taylor. I doubt I'll get a second."

"She adores you. You'll get as many chances as you need," Sora smiled. Hesitantly, a slow grin spread onto his face in response. Slowly, she laid herself upon his thigh and closed her eyes. "Matt."

He gulped deep in his throat at her touch. "Hmm?"

"Sing my song.please."

He smiled and forced his eyes upward, not wanting to keep his eyes trained on her face, knowing the ache it would start all over again. "To watch the leaves grow on the trees with you is out of question. I walk into this summer all alone the usual session. You feel your instinct then you act but was it your intention, to leave me down and broken now you've ended out ascension, yeah."


Her knuckles rapped lightly on the door to Gennai's office. "Come in," came his soft, muffled voice. Slowly she opened the door and stepped inside, closing it with a small click behind her. Gennai stood beside his desk, phone in hand and reading over some papers in his hand. "Just one second, Riley," he smiled warmly, and she felt herself smile back with a nod of understanding.

He turned his attention back to the paper and the phone. "That's right, Mr. Parker. Yes, eleven. Legally, I have temporary guardianship of six. Four of them are otherwise legally mine. One is pending, which you know already."

Riley listened to his conversation as she roamed the office, looking at the shelves covered in books. There were all sorts of books, of many different genres, ranging from sci-fi to self-help. There were quite a few on education and childcare. They were probably his only clue on how to raise kids when all this started, she thought with a laugh.

"Is there a problem?" Gennai's face was contorted with worry, but she barely noticed as she picked up an unmarked, green covered book. Flipping it open, she ran her eyes over chicken scratched handwriting. "Well, you tell me, you're my lawyer. No, I've been waiting for about two weeks for this paper work to go through. What's the hold up?" Gennai's face fell. "Oh." He glanced over at Riley, watching her face, seeing if she knew anything about his conversation. Her eyes were immersed in the book in her hands, oblivious to him. "I understand. I know you're trying, Mr. Parker. Brett, right. I know I don't need to be formal. Force of habit. I can meet with you Wednesday, if that's all right. Maybe even with his lawyer as well." He did not like this situation Riley had gotten herself stuck with. "Yes, we will have to see. Thank you, Brett. See you Wednesday. Goodbye." He set down the phone with a sharp click and watched Riley. She was still fixated by her book. "Tera kept that," he spoke up, causing her to look up at him. "It was hers in the Digital World. She gave it to me when she came here. She said it might give me some insight on you all that I missed."

"I can barely read the writing," she admitted.

He laughed. "Yeah, I think that's the only reason she gave it to me. More fun watching me try to decipher it." Riley looked back to her book. A moment of silence passed between them. Then, "Any idea who I was talking to just now?"

"A lawyer, Brett Parker," she answered, not looking up from the book. "And by my deciphering, your lawyer."

Gennai smiled. "Good guess."

She shut the book, but showed no intention of putting it away. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"It's about your step-father." She grew uncomfortable where she stood. "Do you want to sit?"

"No, I'm good standing."

He slid a grim look over his face and stared at her with tender eyes. "He's making it very difficult to adopt you. Seems you fed Kari and TK a lot of lines about your past." She looked away. "I keep trying to get the courts to look in onto the abuse, but so far they keep coming up with a lot of blanks. He's their Good-Samaritan foster dad."

"Just 'cuz there were never any marks doesn't change anything. I can't go back to him, he's crazy."

"What about your sister, would she back you up?" he asked hopefully.

Riley shook her head ruefully. "Sara took care of me, but he's her dad. She's not going to go against him. He only hurt the troubled foster kid, after all."

He cleared his throat. "This brings me to another point."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"Because of all these court meddlings, they've acquired your real name." Her breath caught in her throat. "They're going to contact your real mom."

Her face fell and real fear appeared in her eyes. "So it goes from bad to worse. She's going to be so mad..."

"Mind telling me why your mom's so bad? I thought you changed your name to be hers. I figured you liked her."

She shook her head. "Riley Christien was my grandmother. She raised me while my mom was out with her sleazy boyfriends, or pimps, or customers...I don't remember what she called them. My grandma died while I was in the Digital World. That's why I ran."

"I'm very sorry," Gennai whispered.

"It's okay, Gennai. It doesn't hurt anymore. But... is she going to come here?"

"I don't know. But she never you gave you up, Riley. So before I can adopt you, I have to ask her permission."

"Then don't. I can just live here without anyone knowing," she suggested desperately.

"Your foster father knows. My lawyer, his lawyer knows. Riley, I can't. If I did that, and I was caught, chances are they would revoke my license, and all of the kids living here would have to go back to where they came from." He watched her as she looked away at the bookshelf once more. She looked like she was in so much pain. "You were going to run that day you told Kari and TK. I know you weren't getting sent away. Why didn't you just go?"

"Because... Kari was my friend, I think. I wasn't going to say anything to TK. Kari, that," she smiled slightly, "wench, invited him along."

"You think Kari was your friend?" He emphasized the word think, not sure what she meant.

"Well, she talked to me when she wouldn't talk to anyone else. She listened to me moan about TK. She saw through the crap with the people I hung out with. I felt she needed some sort of explanation, even if you don't."

He smiled. "What I think doesn't matter. All that matters is what you think, and that you're okay."

"Well, with all this mess, I'm starting to think I made the wrong choice."

"You didn't," Gennai smiled reassuringly. "Now, tonight, call Sara and ask her to talk to the social services. You said your dad never did anything to her, only you. I can arrange it so he'll never know she did it. Once she comes forward, if she comes forward, I'll call your mom."

"If she doesn't?"

"Then I still have to call your mom, Riley. It's just the way things are."

"I understand, Gennai. If she doesn't give me up?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"I'll run again Gennai. I will. Far away."

"And I'll set you up with a plush hotel in California," he smiled. She let a smile cross her face. "You can go now, Riley. I'm sure you're very eager to get your mind off of all this."

"I am. But it ain't gonna happen. It's not something I'm gonna forget." She started to push Tera's journal back onto the shelf.

"You can keep that if you want. Or at least, read it and return it."

She hugged the book to her. "Thanks, Gennai," she surged with gratitude as she walked passed him to the door, clutching tightly to the journal.


A very light knock on the door made her look up from the book clutched in between her and Riley's hands. "Come in," she called from their seat on Riley's bedspread. It was Tera's bed really, and it felt wrong being up there without Tera there yelling at her about not doing her homework or invading her personal space, but she had to admit, she did not mind Riley's company, and in fact, found it rather comforting.

The door opened and Tai walked in, looking angry and hurt. A feeling of fear crept over her as she imagined Tai telling her off right there, in front of Riley. Embarrassment and rage flushed her face.

"Kari, I want to talk to you."

"No," she snapped with a humiliated, desperate edge in her voice. He caught it.

"I'm not mad. I just need to talk to you."

Riley shifted. "I'll let you two be alone," she spoke up, as she crawled her way to the bunk ladder.

"Rei." Riley looked up at her and gave a soft smile, and Kari knew she was on her own. Slowly, she followed Riley down the sturdy wood ladder, but stopped at the bottom, while Riley walked past Tai with a soft 'hi' and out the door. Tai shut it softly before raising his eyes to look at her. "What?" She snapped, felling her attitude start to come back and supply her voice. It didn't waver this time.

"Jeez, I'm sorry. I just... came to talk to you."

"About what?"

"About whatever!"

"What is this? Some sort of therapy homework? Is Sora putting you up to this?"

"No," he sighed bitterly. "Though we did just have a very angry conversation about it."

"So you're here. Glad you have no ulterior motives."

"Look, Kari, I know you hate me, but-"

She crossed her arms and cut him off, "Don't presume to know anything about me."

"Well, do you hate me?"

"Of course not," she whispered. "You're my brother." He felt himself stop breathing as his throat tightened, and he really looked at her for the first time in months. Her eyes, big windows to her soul, showed a sad and tiny girl, and he knew he had wronged her. "Should I hate you?"

"Yes," he choked out. He wanted to run to her and hug her, but he couldn't move his body. He wasn't even sure if he could show her the emotion he wanted to.

"Well, I don't," she spat. "Don't assume anything about me."

"I won't."

"Do," She couldn't push the words from her throat. "Do you hate me?"

"Sometimes. When you hurt yourself. When you do stupid things, like that party." He shook his head. "I haven't hated you in a long time, though. I haven't been around you to hate you. I don't hate you now."

"You're crying."

He hadn't realized it, but she was telling the truth. Slow teardrops pulsed down his cheeks. "You make me want to cry," he admitted. "Since the day mom and dad died, I've just wanted to cry, any time I've been around you. Because I remember them and I remember you, what used to be you." He wiped his cheek. "Do you miss the old you?"

She started at the floor, turning the question over in her mind. She remembered missing her old life, and her parents, but never once had she missed herself. What was there to miss? "I-I don't know. Do you miss you?"

"Very much," he confessed. "I was stronger then. I was your big brother then. I was a leader then." She watched him wipe his tears, and she knew the emotional wreck he really was. He wasn't really the pain-in-the-ass brother she had had to take crap from in the last year. He wasn't just the only reminder that she did once have a family. Slowly, hesitantly, she stepped towards him, until she was standing in front of him. Slowly, she reached up and brushed away his tears with her hand. He caught her wrist and turned it over carefully, examining her flesh. "When was the last time?"

She wanted to yank her arm from his hands and tell him to fuck off, but couldn't. She just let her arm hang limply in his hands. "Um, it's been a solid two weeks, maybe."

"Where?"

"My stomach."

He released her wrist and snatched at her shirt before she had a chance to move away. He lifted the hem to reveal the dark, painful scars. "Why?"

"For the fun of it?" It was a thin, bad joke and the daggers in his eyes made her wish he'd just slap her instead of saying anything else. "Because it hurt, and then everything was better."

"It takes pain to make it better?" he asked skeptically.

"You have to struggle for everything," she shrugged, as tears began to spring from her eyes. "To make sure you deserve it."

He scooped her off her feet and held her tightly as he walked over to the bed. She was lanky and long-legged, but he had no trouble holding her. He collapsed onto her bed and hugged her tightly. She buried her face into his shoulder.

"I hate you, Tai," she whispered into the cloth of his shirt. "You make it hurt, and I keep putting the knife in to get it to stop, but it won't and I can't breathe. And I do it over and over."

"Shhh," he whispered into her hair, and she vaguely felt him rocking her back and forth. She knew he was crying too.

"My arms and stomach."

"And legs," he whispered. She nodded, gasping for air, not wondering how he knew. "Sora told me. She checks you at night, for new cuts and things. She cleans them and the blood." She gave another gasp for air. "Shhh."

"I almost got raped, Tai," she whispered. His arms tensed. "The last party I was at, a guy drugged me. He almost raped me. I wake up crying to his face almost every night."

"What are your nightmares like?" He spoke softly, calmly, much unlike the brother she was used to.

"Mom and dad are there. And they're dead. They say I'm a disappointment and they point to my arms, which are all bleeding. Then they push me and I see him, Slick, and his pretty boy face, but it's all blurry because he's just a memory from when I was drunk. And suddenly, I can't move and I just see him." Her face pushed deeper against his shoulder. "I want mom and dad. I want Meeko. I want bad cooking and constant cussing from dad's workroom. I want them back."

"I know you do." His arms pressed around her tightly in an unfamiliar hug. Stiff but warm. "I do too. But we can't have them back. But, it'll be okay."

"How?"

"I don't know, but it will be."


Matt softly tuned his guitar under the midnight sky in Gennai's yard. A few yards off, he knew TK and Riley were talking softly, and when they stopped talking, he knew they were exploring each other's mouths. He smiled happily to himself, glad for his little brother.

Footsteps made him look up from the guitar strings to see Taylor standing a few feet away, watching him with guarded lavender eyes. He let his grip on the guitar loosen. "Hey," he whispered softly. She didn't move. "Do you want to sit?" he asked hopefully. With a quick nod, she crossed the distance between them and sat down at his side. "You're out awful late."

"I had a nightmare," her voice was barely a whisper, as usual. "And I went to go sleep with Natalie, but Tera's not doing very well, and Natalie's distracted between her and Elijah."

"Elijah?"

"They're trying to work things out. They've been trying since the day before yesterday." He shook his head and let his fingers play with the strings of his guitar, strumming a soft melody. "What are you playing?"

"It's an old song I wrote. You wanna hear it?" She nodded, and he missed her sweet voice. The guitar started softly. "A hundred days have made me older since the last time that I saw your pretty face. A thousand lies have made me colder and I don't think I can look at this the same. But all the miles that separate us disappear now when I'm dreamin' of your face. I'm here without you, baby, but you're still on my lonely mind. I think about you, baby, and I dream about you all the time. I'm here without you, baby, but you're still with me in my dreams, and tonight, there's only you and me, yeah."

Taylor felt something in her chest begin to ache and the all too familiar feeling of tears began in her eyes. Quickly, she brought her knees to her chest and buried her head in them.

Matt felt his heart grow heavy when her face disappeared behind her knees, but he didn't stop. "The miles just keep rollin' as the people leave their way to say hello. I've heard this life is overrated, but I hope that it gets better as we go, oh yeah, yeah. I'm here without you, baby, but you're still on my lonely mind. I think about you, baby, and I dream about you all the time. I'm here without you, baby, but you're still with me in my dreams, and tonight, girl, there's only you and me."

She began sobbing, and he could no longer play. The music stopped instantly as he pulled the strap from around his shoulders and set the guitar on the grass. "Taylor, what's wrong?" She didn't answer, and a helpless fear spread over him. "Taylor, come on kid, what's wrong? My song's not really that sad." Slowly, he raised his hand and set it on her shoulder. She jumped away, as if his touch burned her. "Taylor?" he whispered, searching her puffy red eyes.

"Are you going to leave?" she asked softly.

"What?"

"Are you going to go back to Japan?"

His voice caught in his throat before he could stutter out, "W-what makes you think I'm going back?"

"I heard you," she whispered, softer than before. "I didn't mean to. I was.with Aaron in your room, and the window was open, and I heard you, from the roof, saying you'll go back because you don't have anything here. I didn't mean to listen, I just did."

"Taylor," his voice was soft, not angry like she expected. "I'm not leaving. Not anytime soon. I want to finish school here. Is-is that what has you all worked up?" She nodded. He stretched his arms to her. "Will you come here?" Slowly, she stood and walked over to him, setting herself in his lap sideways, settling her head on his chest. Softly, he put one hand on her waist and the other on her leg. It took all her strength not to quiver under the warmth of his hands.

"I don't want to be stringing you along," she whispered into his chest. "I didn't know I was."

"You aren't."

"Tera said you loved me."

"I do."

She leaned up and softly kissed him. Her body trembled under his hands and lips as she pressed them to his. He pulled back unexpectedly. "What's wrong? Did I do it wrong?"

He shook his head. "No, this is wrong. Taylor, you're not ready for this. I see it in your face and feel it in the way your body shakes. You don't want this."

She pressed her face in his chest. "I do."

"You don't." His voice softened to a quiver. "I'm not going to push you, and you're not going to push yourself for me. I will wait as long as you need me to, as long as it takes you to be ready."

She grasped one of his hands in both of her own and held it to her cheek. Softly, he stroked her cheek with his thumb, brushing her lips before he felt the wetness of tears running from her eyes.

"Taylor, remember that teen dance we went to?" She thought for a moment, then nodded. "There was a guy there, and you were dancing with him." He leaned into her hair. "And it made me so jealous." She giggled like he knew she would. "How come you let that guy dance with you?"

"Tera met him though a group session that she did. He never talked either. I met him a couple of times before and we sorta talked. Tera invited him to the dance, kind of like a date. His name is Eric. We go out sometimes, usually with Aaron and Tera."

"Now I have another reason to be jealous of him."

She giggled again. "It's okay. He only held my hand. He never kissed me."

"And he never will." She giggled happily, pressing her face into the crook of his neck and taking in his scent. It wasn't musky like her father's, and for this she was grateful.


'Line your sight. Breathe. Lean back, lift leg. Forward. Release!' He worked the movements in his mind as he sent the tennis ball flying from his hand and against the side of the house. It bounced off, imitating a line drive to his left. He let it roll into his glove, and rolled his tense shoulders as he lined up for another pitch.

"Aaron, what are you doing?"

Aaron looked up from the shade of his baseball hat to see Elijah squinting at him in the noonday sun from the side of the house. Aaron turned back to his target. "I'm pitching the ball, Elijah," he said, shrugging as he lined another pitch at the square, duct tape target.

"I mean with Tera."

The ball flew from his hand too early, as his head snapped toward Elijah, making the ball hit high and to the right of the target. "I haven't been doing anything with Tera. She's been sick." The ball missed the target and rolled away.

"You know what I mean," Elijah growled, glaring more than squinting.

"If I'm asking, then I guess I don't," Aaron snapped, turning away and going after the florescent green ball, which was lying in the shade of a large orange tree.

"You've been acting like an ass since you got home. She says you won't talk to her and you avoid her. What's with you?"

Aaron walked back, turning the tennis ball over in his glove. "How would you know, Eli? That would require you talking to her. Which, from what I hear, you don't."

"Shut up, Aaron. I didn't come out here to get your philosophies on my relationship with my sister. Quit being a jerk and talk to her."

"No. You have no right to come out here and order me to talk to her. This is between me and her, and it's none of your business!"

Elijah shook his head. "Fine. It's between you and Tera, keep it between you and Tera. But you might want to let her know what it is between you two, because she knows less than I do." He turned his chair and started to leave.

"I see how it is, Elijah." Eli made a dead stop and turned his head to stare at Aaron. "You won't be around anymore. You're just gonna leave. So use me, right? Push some cheap substitute for you onto her, keep her busy with me, to keep you from feeling guilty." Aaron glared at him. "As long as she is distracted, you can leave with a clear conscience."

"I see how it is, Aaron," Elijah spoke with a hauntingly calm voice. Aaron steadied himself. "You can't get anything from Tera, can't get her to stop guarding herself. So you leave, so you can stop being hurt." Elijah wheeled himself away as Aaron's grip on the ball tightened and his fist shook. "Oh, by the way, Tera's awake and up walking around." Then he was gone.

Who did Elijah think he was? He knew nothing! With one last, angry throw, Aaron gathered up his things and trekked inside, purposely using the back door, hoping to avoid Eli.

Natalie sat on the counter, soda in hand; staring downward as Gennai leaned against the island. The room was eerily quiet and thick with tension, as Gennai stared at Natalie, obviously waiting for a response to something. Neither noticed as Aaron walked by, head down, to the refrigerator.

"My mother is going to come. To check on me. I lost control." Her voice shook badly as she stared downward.

"Natalie, you haven't been eating. You've been throwing up. What do I do?" Gennai demanded. "Shall I start doing weekly weight checks again? Do you remember how humiliating those were?! How about food diaries? Do you have to keep those again?"

"No."

"Then what?" he pleaded.

Feeling like a rat for listening in, Aaron reached for the nearest bottle of water and bolted from the kitchen, head down. He knew Natalie was having problems since she and Elijah had broke up, everybody knew. Rumors circulated around school, too. But he didn't think she was actually throwing up again.

He scampered up the stairs, passing the living room where Matt, TK and Elijah sat watching TV. The loud wail of a human scream erupted from downstairs as Aaron walked towards his room. They were probably watching some stupid horror movie. Hushed voices came from his room. Tai and Sora sat on Tai's bed, talking back and forth. He groaned inwardly to himself, was there no place he could go?

Their voices immediately stopped upon his entrance, signaling that he was unwelcome. "Sorry, guys. Just grabbing a change of clothes before I hit the shower." They nodded to him as he stepped into the closet, searching for something clean. He grabbed the first thing that looked appealing off the floor: a pair of shorts and a blue muscle shirt. He retreated from the closet with his hands raised, "Okay, I'm out."

He passed the girls' room en route to the bathroom with his head down. It felt weird knowing Tera wasn't in there. She wasn't sleeping down the hall from him anymore. Kaleigh was here and the group was complete, but they were falling apart. But that didn't matter to him anymore.

He pushed into the bathroom only to be hit by a wall of hot steam. As the door clicked shut behind him, he squinted against the heat and stared at the naked body of Tera as she stepped out of the shower. He blinked. She wasn't naked, but close to it, a towel wrapped around her torso. He froze, fixated on her body as she stared up at him with one hand against the wall in support. A blush of red washed over her cheeks.

"Aaron, get out!" she demanded with a scream.

"Oh," he mumbled as he dropped his eyes and began to fumble for the doorknob. Something caught his eyes as he moved them from her exposed body to the floor, making him raise them again. Long, red lines ran down the inside of her arm that she was using to help keep her balance with.

"You cut."

She snapped her arm to her body, holding it protectively to herself. "Get out, Aaron!"

"You cut!" He repeated, stalking up to her and grabbing her arm. She resisted, but the sickness had taken it's toll, and she could barely even lift her arms, much less fight back. She let out a submissive whimper. His eyes stared onto hers as he searched his mind for something to say, anything to get an explanation. But all he saw was her eyes avoiding his, as she hugged her other arm to her chest. He reached out and grabbed the other arm. She began to squirm and wiggle, but he got a tight grip and drew her arm to his view. As he did, the towel fell from her body.

And they stood there, Aaron holding both her arms from her body staring at the deep, angry cuts and Tera shaking and shivering, eyes cast to the floor as she stood there naked. "Aaron, please go," she whispered, her voice shaking.

"Shut up, Tera," he sneered angrily. "It's not like I've never seen you naked." The words brought an angry, choking sob from her and he knew he had crossed the line, but his anger did not fade. He pushed her, dripping wet, onto the toilet and picked up her towel, draping it lightly over her shoulders. "Gimme your arms," he demanded. She ignored him. "Give me your arms," he said again. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she held out one arm, but used the other to try and cover herself as best as possible. Blood smeared against the pale skin of her chest. "Why?"

"Because."

"That ain't a reason. What are you doing this for?" he demanded, using toilet paper to wipe away excess blood from her left arm where the cuts were the deepest. She was shaking. "You have a fever."

"I'm fine."

"Yeah, that's what you told Natalie, but I don't believe you." He went to the sink and pulled bandages and peroxide from underneath. "Why, Tera?"

"Because it hurts, okay!" she erupted. He tipped a cotton ball wet with peroxide onto her arm, and she jumped in response, hissing in pain.

"No! That's not okay. Clarify it for me!" he barked.

"You're not him anymore, Aaron," she whispered cryptically.

He lifted his eyes from her arm as he wrapped it in bandages. It was becoming increasingly hard to focus on her words with her damp, naked body under his arms. "Him who?"

"My best friend," she continued in a whisper. "You can't stand there and expect me to tell you everything, or anything! You're not him, you're not anything Aaron!" Her words were painfully bitter, and hit him with the ferocity of a line drive to the face.

He grabbed at her other arm, pretending that her voice didn't make him want to cry. Instead, he pressed the peroxide soaked cotton ball against her arm and she hissed again and cried in defeat. He wrapped her other arm in silence.

He took in her body after he was done, unsure of what to say or what to do. She shook violently, whether from cold, fever, or embarrassment he was unsure. Wet brown hair dripped down her face, down the slope of her body, and he fought desperately to resist staring at her. Her face was red, cheeks colored with fever and embarrassment.

Slowly and hesitantly, he cleaned off her naked chest where she had smeared blood from her wrist. She didn't even notice when his fingers flinched as he touched the top of her breasts through the washcloth.

"What did-" her voice squeaked with tears that just seemed to rip from her body. "What did I do?" She had to whisper, her voice could no longer climb any higher. "I keep replaying the night you came back in my head, and I keep trying to figure out what I said wrong, or what I did wrong, and I can't find anything."

"You didn't do anything wrong," he sighed.

"T-Then it must have been b-before you left, damnit. We keep going back to this A-Aaron, I can't, it's too hard."

"Tera, you're starting to shiver more. Get dressed." He reached out to touch her shoulder.

"Do-don't touch me!" she screamed. "Listen to me!"

He snapped his hand back. "You're sick. Get dressed."

"Not sick, dying. I'm not sick. I'm dying."

"Damnit, that's enough!" he cried. "Fine, you're dying, but you're not dead yet!"

"Well, I w-wish I were. Th-then I w-wouldn't have to see you, and I wouldn't h-ha-have to know that you hate me because I w-won't ki-kiss you. Or that I won't l-look at you th-the way you want. Or that I-I ha-haven't done anything for you since I-I lost my vir-virginity to you."

"Shut up, Tera."

"I told you I loved you, wasn't that enough?"

"Shut UP, Tera!"

"Just because I don't want you dying too? D-doesn't that pr-prove anything to-to you?!"

Suddenly, he grabbed a glass sitting by the sink and threw it at the shower. It shattered loudly. She covered her ears and whimpered in fear. "Shut up, Tera!" he screamed at her. "It's not like that, why can't you see?!"

"Then what's it like?!"

"I just can't, okay?"

"No, it's not o-okay, gimme a better expl-planation!"

"NO!" he screamed. He didn't speak for a moment as he tried to control the boiling, seething anger taking over his mind. She whimpered and shook. "Get dressed."

"I-I ca-can't."

"Why not?" She pointed to where she had been standing before, and he saw that a pile of clothes sat in the middle of a puddle of water her dripping body had produced. "Shit!" he grumbled to himself. He turned to the door.

"Aaron, where are you going?" her voice shook in desperation. Her hands tightly clutched the towel around her shoulders and she shivered so violently, she looked like she was in pain. Her teeth chattered inside her mouth.

"I'm going to have Taylor bring you some clothes."

"Are you going to come back?"

He didn't answer. Then, "Yes." She looked down, staring at her naked thighs, content by his answer, but still unready to meet his eyes. He blinked, then turned and walked out the door, feeling an immense weight lift off his chest as he stepped out of the boiling bathroom.

He stopped outside the girls' room door, holding his hand up to knock. He hesitated. He could stop this. He could turn his back on the bathroom, on the beautiful naked girl in it, and forget about this whole thing and just tell Gennai or Natalie, and they'd deal with it. And he'd never have to deal with it again.

But he knocked on the door anyway. Taylor appeared in a matter of seconds, her face flushed red and her blond-brown hair messed up all over her head. "Are you okay?" He asked, letting worry take charge. Despite his ever- growing fear of Tera alone in the bathroom, he needed to draw this out. He couldn't go back too soon. She nodded. "Why are you all red?" She opened the door a little further as a shy grin spread over her freckled face. Kari and Riley were attacking each other on the floor with pillows. His eyes widened. "Are you playing with them?" She nodded. He smiled. "That's really cool, Taylor."

She smiled back. "Did you need something, Aaron?"

"Oh yeah, sorry for interrupting you guys. But could you bring Tera some clothes? Some really warm pajama pants with a long sleeve top and, you know, under things."

Apprehension appeared on her face as her eyebrows furrowed and she frowned. "Is Tera okay?" Her voice cracked as she whispered it out.

"Yeah, yeah," he smiled in reassurance. "She just got out of the shower and her clothes were wet. Just bring them to the bathroom, okay kid?"

She nodded, and he turned to go. "Aaron?" He stopped. "If Tera's in the bathroom, not dressed, why are you going back to the bathroom?"

He felt himself blush, knowing he had been caught. "I'm just going to let her know you're on your way." She nodded, happy with the answer, and disappeared back inside her room. He turned back to the bathroom.


Tera watched Aaron leave, biting down on her lip. She picked up one of the shattered pieces of glass and jabbed it into her arm, continuing the burning scratches in her arms from under the bandages to wherever there was still clear skin. Aaron had no idea how good that truly felt.

She had woke up that morning to Natalie, curled up beside her, looking just as sick and pale as she did. Elijah was sitting in his chair by the bed, head rested on Natalie's thigh, fast asleep. They had spent the entire night talking, fighting, and in intense, angry silences. Tera had been in and out all night, and vaguely remembered some of the heated words and insults. At least, she thought she remembered; her affliction sometimes made her hallucinate.

She had nuzzled her face into Natalie's shoulder for much of the morning, sobbing away her hurt heart. Natalie had held her, sobbed with her, kissed her head, and promised things would get better.

Tera made a deep line with the glass for every promise Natalie had made.

She wished she was in the shower again, instead of sitting on the toilet, glass buried in her arm and weeping and shivering in her pain. She wished the hot spray would wash over her body again, making it so the sudden temperature change was not fever, but water. She wished it would wash away the blood, so she could make cut after cut, and never have to look at what was seeping from her body. She wished that the tears in her eyes would stop flowing so she could see what she was cutting, so she could make sure she didn't blindly hit the vital vein.

The door creaked open, but she pretended to take no notice. It was easier looking like she was completely out of it than taking responsibility for the cuts on her arm. "Tera!" His deep, beautiful voice shook her more then anything could have. More than her father, more than Gennai, more than Elijah. The fear and sadness and utter contempt he held in his beautiful voice made her want to drive the glass further. "Tera, no!" he screamed as he grabbed the glass, striking another scratch as he pulled. She screamed in a sob, and his hands were suddenly on her back, his face was buried in her hair. He was whispering, over and over, "No, Tera, no," as she cried. He hugged her and rocked her, pressed firmly against her breast.

"Just let me," she whispered. "Just stop all of it."

"Stop what?" he choked out into her wet, tangled hair.

"The nightmares, and the memories, and the coughing, and the pain. All the pain. I just want to sleep. I just want to kiss you, I do. I want the voice in my head to stop. I'm not a slut and I can't do drugs. I can't forget that way. I have to see everything, and hear the voices say it over and over." she choked into the crook of his neck.

"Tera, breathe, baby, breathe. It's okay."

"They have to stop, they have to."

Blood was everywhere, and it smeared everywhere on his clothes and on his skin, but he paid it no mind, despite the very fatal effects it would have if it got inside him. She didn't notice and he prayed she wouldn't. He couldn't let her go, ever.


Taylor stepped around Kari and Riley wrestling on the floor, as they both dived for the remote to the CD player. She giggled at their loud yelling and tumbling as they battled each other with pillows and stuffed animals and shoes. She didn't even mind when they attacked her from behind, even though she had had to resist every urge to scream.

Her chest swelled with excitement and happiness. She was one of the girls, just playing and talking, almost.

"Come on, Taylor!" Riley yelled, as she slammed a pillow down on Kari's face.

Taylor laughed. "I have to get some clothes for Tera," she replied softly. "I'll be back in a second." Riley nodded, and Kari flipped her over.

Taylor laughed again as she went to the dresser. The top two drawers were Tera's. She opened the second one, where Tera kept her pajamas and under things, as Aaron called them. She dug around until she had produced everything but a top. Tera had gone through a lot of them when she'd been sick; she constantly had to change them, because she'd soak them in sweat so fast. Finally, Taylor found one at the bottom of the drawer and with a sharp tug it came out, followed by a sliver tin that landed at her feet.

Bending over, she picked it up and examined it. It was a mint tin, but it was a flavor Tera hated, and most of the writing looked Japanese. Out of curiosity, Taylor opened it, and stared at the contents. It took her a few minutes to remember, but the pictures from health class slowly surfaced in her mind.

MDMA.ecstasy.


Oooooo! Tera has drugs! Who's going insane now?! Ahaha!

Okay, I'm in a lot better mood tonight then I have been all week, so bear with me, its got me really giddy. So anyway, first off, song one that appeared in the fic was "Wanna Be" by Nine Days. Second song was "Here Without You" by Three Doors Down. I don't own either.

Second, guess what? The next chapter is the last chapter minus an epilogue. Well at least that's the original plan. You as my readers have two options. We can either just get to the end and you can find out about the drugs and about Eli and Nat. Or I can do a chapter about Riley with her mom coming down, plus random journal entries. If I do that it will focus mostly on Rei, so don't expect many other characters. So it's your choice, lemme know.

Love y'all!


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