Mari Izumi- Age 16
Born to Izzy and Aya Izumi on October 17, 2023
Disappeared in 2032, Reappeared in 2037
Currently living in Odaiba, Tokyo with mother Aya
Stage Four- Home
The sun blinded Koji the second he stepped out from under the hotel’s awning, forcing him to shield his eyes. Fortunately, a cloud passed overhead, offering some relief as it threw its shadow over the streets of Odaiba. Michi was not even fazed as she left the building.
“The guy at the desk says it’s a couple blocks that way,” she said, pointing down the street.
“Great. Let’s do this,” Koji replied. He wasn’t nervous about meeting Chiaki. As significant as the meeting was to their mission, he didn’t see anything at risk. Michi may have felt otherwise, but to Koji, the worst possibility was gaining nothing. Losing anything was out of the question.
After half a block, Michi asked, “How do I look?”
Koji turned to his companion, a little surprised. Michi didn’t seem the type to worry about her appearance. However, she had spent a long time in the bathroom that morning, eventually settling on the crimson dress she was currently wearing. But it was still just an ordinary dress. It highlighted none of her features, fitting her fairly loosely and receded well below her knees. Koji had never been all that attracted to her physically, and the dress was not changing anything.
“You look like a girl,” he said eventually.
“I mean-” She paused and composed herself before going on, “Does it work for the situation?”
She began walking again. “Well, we’re trying to carry the idea that we’re just here on spring break. But we still have to get those addresses without arousing suspicion. What I’m asking is if this dress says ‘innocent spring break.’ That’s all.”
“I don’t know. I guess so. I wasn’t really too worried about that.”
“It’s not a bad idea,” Michi said, shielding her eyes as the sun poked out again, “This meeting could make or break the trip.”
“You think so?” Suddenly, Koji was beginning to feel nervous. He had given no thought at all to the impression he was making on Chiaki. “How do *I* look?”
Michi half-turned her neck. As far as Koji could tell, she couldn’t even see him. Still, she replied, “You look fine.”
Koji sped up until he was alongside Michi. “Okay, let’s assume for a second that Chiaki is setting a trap for us. What do we do if we fall into it?”
“First off, we make sure we don’t. If we don’t slip up, we don’t fall,” Michi said, “But we still have to be ready for anything.”
Koji, however, was growing more nervous. “And if we’re not?”
Michi stopped for a moment and opened her purse. “Then we get some help.”
Koji watched her dig around inside, not sure what she was planning on pulling out. For all he knew, she had a weapon stashed in there. “What kind of help?” he asked.
She ended up pulling out a slip of paper. “Yolei Ichijouji. She’s another one of the Chosen. Mom’s been staying in touch with her.”
“I thought that was dangerous.”
“Only if they say something stupid. I guess they just chat like normal friends. Nothing wrong with that.”
“But does she know we’re here?”
“Yep.” Michi put away the slip and smiled at Koji. “We’re here on spring break and we are to get a hold of her in case of emergency.”
Koji raised his eyebrows. “Wow. Mimi thought of everything.”
Still smiling, Michi continued on silently toward the restaurant.
Koji did his best to relax as they drew closer. He forced himself to return to his previous trust in Chiaki, and convinced himself that the only way he and Michi would be in danger was if they said something incriminating.
Chiaki was waiting for them at a table outside the restaurant. He still looked harmless to Koji, reinforced by the growing smile on his face as the two approached.
“Good morning Michi, Koji,” Chiaki said, standing up to greet their arrival. He looked over Michi as his smile grew wider. “You know, you’re really pretty.”
Michi smiled brightly and nodded. “Thank you!”
As Chiaki turned his back to sit down, Koji glanced at Michi. She turned quickly to Koji, frowning suddenly at him and shaking her head. Before he could say anything in response, she had already approached Chiaki, her smile magically returning.
She and Koji sat down. Not wanting to sound anxious, Koji said, “Great weather today, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know, it’s a little bright for me,” Chiaki replied, “I should have brought my sunglasses.”
Koji nodded. “Yeah, that's true.”
“So did you have any luck?” Michi asked. Koji silently thanked her for bringing it up. He wasn’t sure how he wanted to word it.
Chiaki smiled, but leaned forward. “Well, I did get a hold of Kensuke. He wants to know why.”
“Why what?” Koji responded, acting clueless.
“Well, given who they are, and their history, Kensuke’s not sure if he wants to let just anybody see them.”
“We’re not just anybody!” Michi pleaded, “We’re friends with them.”
“How? How do you know them? They seem to have only one thing in common. And I guess that connection is long gone. From what Kensuke says, we can get into a lot of trouble trying to restore it.”
Suddenly, Chiaki was acting differently. Any notions of suspicion were rapidly diminishing in Koji as he realized that he, Michi, and Chiaki were all in the same boat.
He looked over at Michi. She was staring down at the table. She closed her eyes and sighed before looking up at Chiaki.
“I’m one of them. My parents were also… you know.”
Chiaki blinked, then nodded. “I figured it was something like that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make things any easier.”
Michi leaned forward and stared into Chiaki’s eyes. “I understand that. But that’s why I want to see them. We’ve been separated for so long that I want to know what they’re up to. And how they’re getting along, and stuff. I know our ties have been cut, but that bond still exists. Kensuke would understand that.”
As she sat back, Koji was struck by her feelings about the matter. They sounded sincere, as if there really was more to meeting the other children than delivering news of their parents. Perhaps Michi was finally confessing her true reason for accompanying him.
Chiaki leaned back as well, looking at Michi with sympathetic eyes. Suddenly, he stood up. “Well,” he stated, “Let’s put that to the test and see if Kensuke does understand.”
Koji looked up at Chiaki. “What? He’s here?”
“Of course! He runs this place.”
“Great! I’d love to see him!” Michi stood from her chair. Chiaki patted her on the shoulder and led her inside. Koji rose quickly and followed them.
The seats were more than half-filled inside, with a modest line of customers waiting to order. At the counter, a young man’s face lit up as he saw the three walk in. He finished ladling broth into a bowl, handed it to a co-worker, and stepped away. He rounded the counter and smiled at the trio, running a hand through his short, dark brown hair.
“Well if it isn’t little Michi Ishida! I haven’t seen you since I started high school!”
Michi nodded with a forced smile as she tried remember. “I take it you’re Kensuke. It’s been a while for me too.”
They hugged briefly before Kensuke turned to Koji, who extended a hand. “I’m Koji. Nice to meet you Mr. Motomiya.”
“Come on, call me Kensuke,” he replied, gesturing to a booth. “Sit down, let me know how things have been going for you.”
Michi sat down immediately, but Chiaki backed away. “Well, unfortunately, I have to get going. I’ll leave you to get reacquainted,” he said.
Koji turned his head, confused. “But what about…”
Chiaki put his hands up. “I’m sure Kensuke can help you out if he thinks it’s appropriate.” He turned to the restaurateur. “Kensuke, I’ll see you around some time.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks for bringing them here,” Kensuke replied with a wave as Chiaki left the establishment. Then he turned to Michi, a bright smile still on his face. “So what’s been going on in NYC?”
Koji remained quiet as Michi rambled off a number of anecdotes about her and her brothers. Not only did her chatting work with their front, but he was sure she was happy to see an old friend. Besides, Koji was fascinated by her stories- they were astoundingly average. She was the daughter of Matt and Sora Ishida, two of the greatest heroes the world had known. And yet, even after the trauma of December 31, 2028, Michi was living a mundane, uninteresting life. Koji almost envied the uninspiring normality she was describing to Kensuke.
Kensuke was smiling and nodding along. After years of separation, having a starting position on a high school soccer team or playing alto saxophone in the school band made a good story.
“Anyway, Koji and I are here on spring break and we thought we’d drop by,” she said in conclusion.
Kensuke looked at Koji. “So how long have you two been together?” he asked.
“A few months,” she answered quickly, before Koji could tell him the truth. “We met at a, uh… Christmas party,” she added.
Turning back to Michi, Kensuke laughed. “Christmas is good for your family. Like mother, like daughter, huh?”
Michi let out an abbreviated laugh as Koji stared at her nervously. The last thing he wanted was to get caught up in a lie. Especially when it involved posing as a couple.
“It’s an inside joke,” Kensuke said as an aside to Koji.
“So what have you been up to?” Michi asked.
Kensuke responded by pulling out his wallet. Michi and Koji leaned forward as he revealed a picture of a toddler. Given the child's messy brown hair and the set of goggles strapped around his forehead, it was obvious that he was Kensuke’s son.
“Besides C.G.Y., taking care of Taro pretty much covers what I’ve been up to.”
Michi took the picture and smiled, careful to hold it so Koji could see it closely. “How old is he?”
“Three. He’s a handful, but I guess that’s to be expected of a Motomiya.”
“This is great,” Michi said, handing back the picture, “I just hope we can find everybody else.”
Kensuke was about to put the picture back into his wallet, but paused and looked up at the Michi. The smile had vanished from his face. “Everybody else, huh?”
“While we’re here, we really would like to see what everybody’s up to. Especially, um…” Michi cleared her throat, “The four that lost a…”
“Right.” Kensuke put the wallet away, sat back, and looked around the room.
“Do you know where they are?” Koji asked.
Kensuke didn’t respond at first. He merely sat back and glanced around the room. Koji also looked around. Nobody was watching them. Everybody in the room was happily slurping their noodles, paying no attention to the restaurant’s manager or the two foreigners sitting with him.
“You know that’s dangerous,” Kensuke finally said.
Kensuke didn’t let Michi finish. “They’re watching us. They still think we’re a threat. Especially when we get together. I can’t imagine them liking the idea of you and Koji hunting everybody down. Even if it is for something innocent.”
“It is,” Koji pleaded, “Kensuke, it’s just…”
“Is it?” Kensuke glared at Koji. Then he turned to Michi. “You should know about the consequences, Michi. It’s not worth it just to see a picture of my kid.” He glanced aside for a moment. “Hell, I could have e-mailed it to you if you wanted.”
Trembling a little, Michi answered, “We just want to say hi. That’s all.”
Koji followed, leaning forward. “Please, Kensuke.” He gestured toward Michi. “They’ve kept you guys apart for so long. And for what? The off chance that you might say something out of line? Michi wants to see how you’re all doing. And I want to help her find out. If somebody upstairs doesn’t like that, then they can take it up with us. All we need are their addresses. Please?”
As Kensuke stared thoughtfully at Koji, Koji realized for a moment that he had forgotten his true purpose. The letters rushed back into Koji’s mind. The secret held within them was the very reason the families of the Chosen were being monitored. Kensuke had every reason to be hesitant. But Koji also needed him to come through in the end.
“I can’t do it,” Kensuke said, looking down and rubbing his fingers over a smear on the table. “Whether or not to give you the addresses is a tough decision. I don’t want to be the one saddled with it.”
Koji and Michi slumped down. For a moment, their lead had run into a wall.
However, Kensuke looked back up at them and their hopes started climbing.
“If you want those addresses, you’ll have to ask my father.”
Kensuke was very obliging in arranging the appointment. In fact, all Michi and Koji had to do was order bowls of ramen and eat lunch while Kensuke made a phone call. Apparently, the noodle magnate still had plenty of time for his son; Davis agreed to meet them almost immediately.
After lunch, Kensuke led Koji and Michi to a ten-story office building in central Odaiba.
Koji stared up at the colossus. “Is that all C.G.Y.?”
Kensuke laughed. “No… just the top three floors. Come on, we’re going to be late.”
Koji trembled as they entered the lobby and stepped into the elevator. Kensuke pressed the button for the top floor. Desperate to take his mind off meeting the one and only Davis Motomiya, Koji glanced around in hopes of finding something to pay attention to.
The annoying black speck on the left strap of Michi’s dress worked nicely. It wasn’t large, but it was obtrusive. For the first five floors, Koji couldn’t take his eyes off it. Finally, he gave into temptation and pulled it off.
“What?” Michi asked, looking back.
“Nothing. You just had something on your dress.”
“Did you get it?”
Koji wasn’t sure what it used to be. An errant piece of seaweed from lunch, perhaps. Either way, it was taken care of. Koji crushed it into dust and flicked it onto the ground.
The elevator door opened and Kensuke led them down to an office at the end of the hallway. The secretary stood as soon as he walked in.
“He’s ready to see you now,” she said with a smile, opening a door along the back wall. Kensuke, Koji and Michi entered the room behind it.
“Mr. Motomiya, they’re here,” she told the figure seated at the desk at the far end of the room.
Davis stood and smiled. “Thanks. Come on in, guys.”
The secretary closed the door behind them. Koji was surprised to find Davis’s office as businesslike as it was. The walls were bare, except for a few trophies, certificates, and framed magazine covers. The windows were large; the midday sun was currently the main source of light in the room. Except for the pale red carpeting, there was very little color.
Kensuke bowed. “Thanks again for seeing them, Dad. You’re better off calling the shots on this one.”
Davis acknowledged his son with a half-bow. “Don’t mention it. I can take it from here. Did you get lunch?”
“Not yet. I just started my break.”
“Good. Why don’t you go check out that new Kissu Ten place down the street? Word is they have a really sweet miso bowl.”
Kensuke smiled. “I’ll let you know if we should be worried about it. See you in a bit.”
As Kensuke abandoned Koji and Michi, Davis leant against the back of a chair and observed them. Koji was starting to worry again. He had expected Davis to be casual and easy-going. The man with the short brown hair, brown suit, and auburn tie appeared to be a businessman in every regard. But as Davis watched Koji and Michi, he began to flash a smile. It was an eerily recognizable grin, one that told Koji that this was still the same Davis he had once admired.
“You two can sit down whenever you feel like it,” Davis said.
“Oh!” Michi cried, “I’m sorry.”
She quickly walked toward the chair Davis had been up against. He walked back behind his desk as she and Koji sat down. Davis sat as well, folding his hands and leaning forward on the desk.
“So Michi Grant invades Japan. I haven’t seen you since the twenties.”
“That’s why I’m here,” she said, disguising some tenseness in her voice.
“How have Michael and Mimi been treating you?”
She smiled. “Well, they let me come to Japan. That’s a good sign.”
Davis leaned back in his chair. “That does surprise me a little. I mean, they’re letting you go unsupervised... and with a guy.” He turned to Koji, raising his eyebrow. “Koji, was it?”
Koji gulped. After a deep breath, he nodded. “She’s in good hands.”
“I wasn’t worried.” Davis scratched the back of his neck and frowned. “What worries me is why you’re here.”
“That’s not the only reason we’re here,” Michi blurted. Davis leant forward slightly and eyed her carefully. “It’s a vacation, you know?”
“But Kensuke says you’re trying to get in touch with the four?”
“We uh… just wanted to say hi.” Michi’s hands started to tremble as well. Koji could understand why. Davis had a calm, conversational voice and was doing his best to make Koji and Michi relax. However, it was very clear that Davis was grilling them on their mission. Michi was already starting to buckle.
Davis leant forward again. He held up a finger. “Okay, first we have Takuya Takaishi. No problem whatsoever with him. I mean, he’s your cousin, right? His dad and your dad are brothers. So what if they were Matt Ishida and TJ Takaishi?”
Koji couldn’t help but start snickering. He no longer had any doubts about this being the Davis he remembered.
Davis stopped and pointed at Koji. “So you’ve read TK’s books. I always like to know what a stranger knows about me.”
Koji immediately sat upright as he realized Davis’s slip-up was completely intentional. Davis turned back to Michi.
“Anyway, if you wanted to talk to TK’s kid, that isn’t an issue. Then there’s Mima Hida. Cody’s kid. I’m a little indifferent about that one.”
“How so?” Michi asked.
“Nothing special about her, for or against. Aside from your parents being Chosen, there’s no connection between you and her. That’s not good. However, she’s been busy trying to start her singing career, and she seems to be catching a few breaks. So it’s a good excuse for you to look her up.”
Koji slowly tried to piece together Davis’s logistics. “So basically, as long as it’s not specifically about the Chosen, it’s all right?”
Davis nodded. “Pretty much. It’s Shinya and Mari that are problems.”
“How so?” Michi asked.
“I would imagine that those two are really being watched carefully. Anything remotely suspicious around them could spell trouble.” Davis leaned forward. “I think they know something they aren’t supposed to.”
Koji and Michi eyed each other nervously. With Davis waiting for either to respond, the two had a silent battle of who would speak. Not wanting to leave the burden on Michi, Koji turned back to Davis.
“What makes you think that?”
Davis looked down at his desk before responding, “They didn’t kill Shinya’s uncle for nothing.”
Koji froze. This was the first time he had heard about a real murder. He had been in a world of cover-ups, secrecy, and rumors. But perhaps somebody had truly died after all.
“Jim found something out... and they found him. The question is whether or not he told anybody.”
“Like… Shinya?” guessed Michi.
“Possibly. We’ll never know. Shinya sure isn’t saying anything about it. He knows better than that.”
“And what about Mari?” Koji asked.
Davis laughed. “Mari… explaining Mari is just a headache.”
“I heard she disappeared a few years ago,” Michi said inquisitively.
“Yeah. Without a trace. We figured she was another victim. But a few years ago she reappeared. Nobody can get a damn thing out of her except her mother. And Aya is doing a very good job of keeping everything between them.”
Koji and Michi said nothing. Koji was growing discouraged. His secret may have been leaked already, but disastrous consequences fell on those who discovered it. For a moment, he was tempted to forget about everything and go home. Perhaps Tony was right- it was too risky.
Then Koji considered forgetting about Shinya and Mari and focusing on the other two. But Koji wanted to know what Shinya and Mari knew. And what they went through because of it. Assuming he hadn’t been detected yet, Koji needed to know the consequences if he was.
“So…” Davis continued, “You just wanted to say hi?”
“Yes,” Koji said firmly, “We do. Given everything that they, and you, had done, don’t you think it’s wrong to be kept apart?”
Davis scoffed. “Of course it’s wrong. I hate it just as much as you two. And you know, I really want to help you out.” Davis set his arms on the desk, rested his chin on them. and stared down at the desk. “But I can’t. The whole thing’s too tense right now and I don’t want you guys to accidentally start something.”
Both Koji and Michi slumped back in disappointment as Davis continued, “It’s too risky. I’d feel awful if you got into trouble over something so innocent.”
The office fell silent for a while. Koji understood everything Davis was saying. But at the same time, he had an obligation to Davis’s friends. As dangerous as it was, he had to go through with it.
Obviously, they could go around Davis to secure the addresses, but to do so would feel like a betrayal. Koji wanted Davis’s approval. It seemed the only way to get it was to confess its true purpose.
“They’re alive,” he said softly.
Davis lifted his head and looked at Koji. “Hmm?”
Koji looked over at Michi, staring back with questioning eyes. He turned back, now more confident, and nodded. “Yeah. The seven who you thought died? They didn’t. They ended up in the Digital World.”
Davis sat up straight, continuing to observe Koji carefully. Koji opened his mouth to elaborate further, but stopped after Davis started laughing. The businessman stood and turned around. He continued laughing as he stared out the window.
“Davis, I know it sounds strange but…” Koji stopped his explanation when Davis put a hand up against the window. From the transparent reflection, Koji could see a huge smile on Davis’s face.
“I knew it had to be something like that,” he mused, turning back around and facing Koji once again. “No way those seven could die that easily.”
“I have proof and everything. They gave me letters when I was in there.”
Davis raised an eyebrow, but didn’t stop smiling. “You were in there too? How are they doing?”
“Um… fine.” Koji was expecting the usual questions about how he got in and out, and was a little surprised when Davis ignored the countless loopholes.
“You’re having a much easier time believing this than I expected,” Michi said as Davis pulled out a Rolodex.
Davis turned to Michi. “Hey, it’s easier to swallow than that tripe about the fire, wouldn’t you say?” As Michi nodded, Davis began flipping through the addresses. “So I suppose that’s the reason you’re really here- you want to let those four know the truth.”
Koji stood and bowed his head slightly. “Yes. I understand how dangerous it is. That’s why we came to you to get the addresses. I know it’s risky, but if you could please…” Koji trailed off as he saw Davis pull one card out of the rolodex.
Davis read, “Hida, Mima.” He set it down and began rifling through the others. “That one may be outdated. I think she moved in with her boyfriend a couple months ago.”
“So you’re helping us now?” Michi asked, somewhat surprised.
“Of course.” Davis stopped and looked up at the pair. “Just saying hi isn’t any reason to start anything. But this… now this is a reason to start something. This is big. This is worth it.”
Koji and Michi smiled as Davis resumed his search. “Thank you so much. I mean, I’m sure you understand how important this is,” Koji said.
Davis set two more cards alongside Mima’s and stared at Koji. The smile on his face was suddenly gone, and he stared grimly at Koji. “Yes, it’s important. This changes everything. Those kids will now be able to fully understand exactly what their parents did. They can be proud knowing their parents are still alive and protecting the Digital World. And they can also begin to see what kind of bastards are in charge of all this.”
Koji remained silent as Davis retrieved the final card. “However…” he went on, “Those bastards obviously don’t want the children to know about this. If they ever find out that you were in the Digital World, and that you have proof of it, and that you’re trying to get the word out…” Davis paused before looking back up at Koji. “…I doubt they’ll have any problems with killing you.”
As intimidating as it sounded, Koji didn’t mind. He knew there would be risks. Otherwise Mimi and Adam wouldn’t have reacted the way they did.
“I understand,” Koji replied, “But this has to be done. Not only is it important for the truth to get out… but I promised them I would do this.”
Davis sat back in his chair. His old familiar grin returned as he watched Koji finish. He nodded slowly. “Koji- you may be the bravest kid I’ve ever met.”
A little taken aback by the compliment, Koji scratched his neck. “Well… you did pretty good too when you were a kid.”
Davis shook his head. “Koji, saving the world’s one thing. Changing the world? Now that takes guts.”
Only two of the four lived in the Odaiba area- Mari and Mima. With only a former address and a few clues about Mima’s music career, Michi anticipated a hassle in arranging a meeting with Cody’s daughter. So much, in fact, that she wanted to start hunting down Mima immediately.
Koji, on the other hand, was more focused on the situation with Mari. He wanted to know what she had experienced. He hoped his own knowledge about her father would help her open up. The resulting compromise ended up sending Michi to sniff out Mima and Koji going alone to deliver the letter to Mari.
Koji rang the doorbell outside the Izumi apartment. His hand slipped into his pocket, nervously fingering a slip of paper inside. It was a copy of Yolei Ichijouji’s address in Tamachi. Mari was perhaps the most dangerous person to talk to. And while Koji wanted to get it out of the way immediately, he was still fearful.
The front door cracked open and a pair of large, green eyes greeted Koji. At first, the eyes were the only things moving, scanning Koji up and down with interest. Finally, the owner of the eyes said, “Hello?”
Mari had a pleasant voice. Never before had one word sounded so calm and inviting to Koji. It didn’t make him feel more comfortable, however. In fact, Koji was even more tense. The insurgence surrounding this meeting compounded as Koji realized he was making a startling revelation to a seemingly sweet girl.
“What do you want?”
Not only was the pressure getting to Koji, it was increasing with each of Mari’s words. He was so tense he had forgotten the simple process of introducing himself. Finally, he forced himself into a bow.
“Mari Izumi? I’d like to talk to you about your father, if you don’t mind.”
Koji lifted his head in time to see Mari open the door. Her appearance matched his mental picture of her- the hair hanging loosely to her shoulders was reddish-brown, a shade browner than her father’s. He felt a wave of familiarity as he looked at her, somehow stronger than when he met Davis. She was definitely cuter than Michi. While most of Michi’s features reminded Koji of her father, Mari stood out enough for Koji to consider her pretty.
Of course, none of that mattered, since she was carefully considering whether or not to let him in. With a frown, she nervously began, “I don’t know. Um…”
“Please,” Koji interrupted, “It’s very important. And trust me, I’m not trying to get you into trouble or anything. I just need to speak with you. And your mother, if she’s around.”
Mari shook her head. “No… she’s in Germany for a conference.”
“That’s alright. Mind if I come in?”
She nodded and let him through the doorway. He was still nervous, but was managing to fight through it. Koji almost forgot to take his shoes off, but caught himself before stepping into the hallway. He followed Mari into the living room, and obeyed her request to sit on the sofa.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked, clasping her hands.
He fidgeted for a moment. Figuring it would polite to respond positively and hoping a beverage would calm his nerves, he replied, “Um… sure. Do you have, um… tea?”
“Sure. Just a moment.” She went into the kitchen.
Koji leaned back and took a deep breath. His worries weren’t because of his own predicament; he had prepared himself for the worst, and having Yolei’s address in his pocket made things easier on his end. Instead, he was concerned about Mari. If what Davis had said was true, the girl had been through a lot. She seemed to be hiding it well, but Koji was afraid his upcoming discussion would bring out even more painful memories and distressing emotions than Michi, Kori, or Adam had.
She returned with a tray carrying two glasses. Koji took one and thanked her as she sat down across from him, setting the tray and the second glass on the coffee table in front of her.
Mari began, “So… what do you want to know about my father?”
Koji took a sip of the tea, a little shaken by the wording of her question. She apparently thought he came looking for information. Of course, in a way, he was. He decided to see what he could get.
“Well… do you know what happened to him?” For clarification, he added, “Beyond everything about the fire. I’m sure you don’t really believe that.”
She looked away for a moment. Koji gave her time to frame a response; he didn’t want to rush her.
After a few seconds of hesitation, she replied, “No.” She fell silent again, turning this time to the glass of tea she held in her hands. “I can’t say what happened,” she whispered.
“Do you know?”
More silence. Finally, she looked up at Koji. “If that’s what this is about, you might as well leave now. I can’t help you. People have been asking me for three years. I can’t say.”
Her head slumped down. Koji could imagine the questions people asked Mari after her mysterious return. Of course, the questions wouldn't be about her father. They'd rather ask where she was and what she had been though. Her answer, on the other hand, could be relevant. If she had discovered the truth during her absence, it made sense that she couldn't answer. To do so would incite the wrath of the omnipotent “they” who watched over her. Koji knew he needed to reassure her that he was different.
“Mari, I know what happened to him.”
She shook her head. “You can’t possibly know. I’m not even sure myself.”
Koji waited until she looked him in the eyes. “I was there Mari. I saw him. He’s alive.”
Without taking her eyes off him, Mari stood, hastily stepped around the coffee table and sat next to him on the sofa.
“You were there too?” she asked, with a look of amazement in her eyes.
Koji shied away for a moment. Not only was he getting uncomfortable with her proximity, he felt the weight of her presupposition- he wasn’t alone.
“You were… in the Digital World?”
She nodded, moving closer to him.
“I can’t prove anything. But I was. And he’s alive. I don’t know if my mother believed me when I told her, but she said I couldn’t tell anybody else either way.”
Koji stood, turned away from her, and opened the fanny pack strapped around his waist. He felt a little awkward wearing it, but it was the most inconspicuous thing he and Michi could store the letters in. He began to pull Izzy’s letter out.
“I have proof,” he started, still with his back to her, “Your dad gave me a…”
He was silenced as Mari’s arms wrapped around his waist. He could feel her leaning against his back.
“I believe you…” she whispered. “You were there… you understand.”
Koji dropped the letter. He wanted to step away from her. She was holding him too tightly, and he began to understand the real reason she was making him nervous. But at the moment, she needed him. Nobody else had been in the Digital World. Nobody else had learned the truth first-hand. And that truth was such a heavy burden against such a popular lie.
Mari continued to embrace him. Koji hadn’t moved. The more she held him, the more relaxed he felt. The process was working both ways. In two years, nobody had been able to grasp what Koji had been through. Dwayne never seemed to care. Even Michi, who did her best to care, couldn’t possibly understand. But Mari would understand. She’d understand everything. As Koji began to feel Mari’s tears rolling down his back, he began to realize that at that moment, he needed her too.
He reached back and grabbed her hand. Then he slowly turned around and embraced her. She was weeping softly against his shoulder. They felt the same, but Koji did not cry, instead showing his emotion through the arms that surrounded her, that knew exactly where to hold her as she let out her tears of joy.
Michi wound up with more luck than she had expected. Junko Hida had a good memory, and was able to recall her husband’s old Chosen friends and their children. All Michi had to do was introduce herself, and Junko took care of the rest.
Mima had indeed moved in with her boyfriend. Fortunately, she still kept in touch with her mother. That afternoon, Mima was at a studio, recording a theme song for an upcoming television show. Michi had no trouble getting the address, or finding the location.
While Mima was being paged, Michi sat in the lobby. Like Koji, she had a fanny pack with one of the letters inside. Michi wasn’t sure whether to deliver it or just set up a meeting. This was supposed to be Koji’s operation. Michi was just supporting him.
As the wait continued, the inevitable reflections began. Michi was alone in a recording studio in Tokyo, one page away from meeting the daughter of Cody Hida. With some of the others, there was a connection deeper than being a child of the Odaiba Chosen; With Adam, New York- with Kensuke, their fathers who had carried the mark of friendship; but Cody and Matt had only one thread connecting them. Mima represented nothing special to Michi. Furthermore, unless Mima’s memory wasn’t as good as her mother’s, it would be an uncomfortable conversation.
Michi’s thoughts kept going back to Koji. He was the reason she was doing all this. Koji had the power to change history. He had already changed her. As recently as that morning, she had considered herself confident, with the ability to keep her cool in almost any situation. But in the meeting with Davis, Koji had stolen the show, with Michi’s nerves leaving her ineffective. She could tell Koji knew exactly what he was doing when he let Davis in on the secret. He knew it was going to work. As he successfully worked his magic on Davis, Michi fell deeper into his spell. She admired him more and more. Perhaps she even…
“Were you looking for Mima?” A tall young man, maybe a couple of years older than Michi, jolted her back into reality. She was grateful that he did. She and Koji promised not to fall for each other; she was determined to hold her end of the deal against all odds.
She stood and bowed awkwardly. “Yes. My name’s Michi Grant. Our parents were friends.”
The man nodded. “That’s what Mrs. Hida said. My name’s Touji, I’m Mima’s boyfriend.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Touji led her down a hall to a lounge outside the recording booth. Inside was Mima, relaxing with a bottle of water. She stood immediately upon seeing Michi and smiled.
“Michi! It’s so nice to see you again.” She stepped forward and clutched Michi’s hands.
Michi initially stepped back, but let Mima draw closer. Michi had to think about how she wanted to say this. It was supposed to be Koji’s job.
“Yes… well I’m in Tokyo over spring break and I thought I’d stop by.”
“Wonderful! Who are you here with?”
“Um… a friend,” she answered nervously. With the idea of having stronger feelings for Koji hanging over her head, the last thing she wanted was to clarify the relationship for Mima. But with no initial response from Mima, Michi continued, “He and I are…”
“I understand,” Mima said suddenly, with a large smile. Michi felt her cheeks burning.
Touji interrupted, “I’m going to talk to the producer and see if he wants anything else.” Mima nodded in consent and he left.
Eager to get the heat off herself, Michi volleyed the discussion back to Mima. As they sat down, she began, “So how long have you and Touji been together?”
“We’ve been dating for half a year. I moved in with him in January.” Mima paused for a moment, before continuing, “My mother was a little unsure when he made the offer, but it didn’t take me long to realize it was right. Sometimes you have to trust your heart on matters like this.”
Michi mumbled an incoherent response. She never liked sentimental discussions like these. She had enough faith that her head would guide her correctly; her heart was one organ she didn’t know how to play.
Fiddling with the fanny pack, she decided to give it a shot. If Mima’s head was in the clouds, Michi wanted to appeal to Mima’s heart with a more productive subject.
“Um… I guess I should get to the real reason I’m here.” Mima nodded as Michi retrieved the letter. “I don’t know exactly how to say this but… this is from your father.”
Mima’s smile fell for the first time since Michi saw her. Mima took the envelope and carefully opened it. “Hopefully he explains it in there,” Michi added, scratching her shoulder.
Hoping to avoid any difficult questions, Michi nervously observed Mima as she read the letter. She grimaced as Mima began to furrow her eyebrows, her mouth opening more and more as she perused the letter.
"Why did you give me this?" she asked Michi while still staring at the letter.
Michi raised an eyebrow. "Don't you understand what that means?"
Mima faced straight ahead, still looking troubled. "I didn't need this. It was all supposed to be over. And this doesn't change the fact that Dad's dead. It just complicates the circumstances."
Although she was a little bewildered, Michi at least knew how to respond. "Mima, read it closer. Your Dad's not dead!"
Looking down, Mima solemnly replied, "Yes he is. Whoever wrote this doesn't remember mother or me. It doesn't matter if he was reborn if he doesn't recall the people he loved."
Suddenly, Michi was lost. She had no reason to think Mima's letter was different than hers or her brother's. But all this talk of rebirth and remembrance was new. Her parents certainly had no trouble remembering Kori or herself.
“Still, it’s nice that the others are still alive,” Mima said kindly, turning to Michi, “And I suppose Dad is still doing alright, even if he doesn’t remember mother or me.”
Michi pointed to the letter. “Can… I see that a second?”
Mima handed it over. Michi quickly skimmed over it, trying to make sense of Mima’s reaction.
“…Some time ago, the father you knew
“…Whoever I am, I feel it my duty to tell you and your mother the truth…”
“…Even though I have no memory of you or Junko, the fact that I have a daughter somewhere, doing great things with the memory of me in your heart, makes me love you all the same.”
Speechless, Michi handed the letter back. Koji hadn’t prepared her for that. Mima carefully returned it to its envelope and set it aside.
Mima looked up at Michi. “So how did you end up with these letters? Do you know Takato?”
“Hm?” Michi looked up. “Takato?”
“Dad said Takato was supposed to deliver this letter.”
Michi quickly remembered Koji’s real name and nodded quickly. “Oh, right! That’s who I came here with. He changed his name and…”
“He sounds like a very nice boy.” Mima smiled suddenly, forcing Michi to rear back nervously. Once again, Koji kept returning to the conversation.
Michi started to stutter some incoherent response, not even knowing herself what she was trying to say. Anything she said was more to defend herself from her own feelings, rather than any misunderstanding on Mima’s part. But Michi never heard herself say they were just friends. She lacked the will to say that without questioning its validity.
Mima appeared unfazed, nodding along to Michi’s rambles, still with that calm smile on her face. The smile made Michi realize the futility of explaining. She slumped down. “Yeah. He is,” she said, turning away.
“Michi, I don’t mean to stick my nose in your affairs, but I can tell when somebody needs some help on matters like this."
Michi shook her head. "You don't know what I'm feeling. Hell, I don't even know what I'm feeling."
“Believe me Michi, you’ll know if it’s…”
Michi snapped back in frustration, “But I don’t! Does that mean it’s not?!”
She stopped herself. There was no sense getting angry at Mima. Mima lived through music, but no sappy love song could echo Michi’s feelings.
“Maybe you should talk to him.”
With a scoff, Michi replied, “What would I say? ‘I might be falling in love with you. I’ll keep you posted.’ We had everything straightened out. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.”
“Be honest. He’ll understand.”
Frustrated, Michi looked into Mima's eyes. If nothing else, Mima seemed awfully certain about herself. She had reason to- she had gone through the process and was enjoying a successful relationship. Perhaps she really did know what she was saying. Perhaps Koji would understand.
Michi first met him when he asked her out, a definitive declaration of romantic interest. Maybe that feeling hadn’t left him. Maybe all the talk of not falling in love was his way of being polite. Maybe he considered his pursuit of her futile and gave up the chase.
Whatever the case, it was worth a shot. Level with him and let him make the next move. Michi thanked Mima for the advice and began the journey back to the hotel. While Mima was far too sentimental for Michi’s taste, she was finding success by following her heart. With Koji waiting, Michi figured it was a good time to learn how to listen to it.
Koji and Mari quickly realized the fallacy of discussing everything during a walk. They both wanted to get outside into the evening air, but so did everybody else in Odaiba. Neither of the two knew who would be listening, and neither wanted to take chances.
The two went several blocks without saying a word. For Koji, it wasn’t just the paranoia of who was watching. He was enjoying the silent moment with Mari. They didn’t need words to grow closer. He took her hand. She smiled at him. That said it all.
Eventually, the pedestrians on the street crowded the pair. They needed to be alone. Koji suggested his hotel room, and Mari naturally hesitated. After realizing the ill intentions she could conjure up, he pointed out that he wasn’t going to try anything stupid with Michi due back. Not only that, but he wanted Michi to meet Mari. The explanation was enough for Mari to accept the offer.
Once in the room, however, they spent an hour talking. They brought up every nuance of their situation. As Koji summarized his experiences with the Chosen in the Digital World, Mari also described her visit. It helped answer a few questions, like why Izzy had been so confident in his ability to send Koji home. Although he wondered why Izzy had never brought Mari up, Koji trusted that Izzy had his reasons.
The details of their stories frequently coincided. Neither Koji nor Mari could explain how they got in. And just as Koji didn’t want to bring up his life before crossing over, Mari couldn’t bring up hers. To her, everything that happened before entering the Digital World was a blurry illusion.
The stories of during and before were relevant, but not particularly painful. But after returning to reality, they were both forced into silence. It had always been a little agonizing for Koji. At first, Dwayne's advice on abandoning the Digital World seemed like a betrayal, but he grew used to it. Dwayne knew what he was talking about, and Koji wasn’t in a position to say anything out of line.
Mari was in a similar situation with her mother. But it was more personal than Koji’s situation with Dwayne. Aya had been alone for years. When her daughter returned and explained how Izzy was alive, it was more emotional than anything Koji could have said to Dwayne- but it was not joyful. Mari never knew if Aya really believed her.
“I don’t know what was wrong, but my mother never got excited when I told her Dad was still alive,” Mari told Koji. “All she said was that I couldn’t tell anybody. Which was so difficult for me.”
Nobody in New York knew Koji was missing. When he reappeared, it wasn’t a big deal. But everybody close to Mari’s family knew about her disappearance. Her return drew tremendous attention. Everybody from family members to journalists to government officials asked where she had been.
“And I… I couldn’t say anything. They were all crowding me and…”
She stopped, unable to continue. Koji could see her hands shaking. He stood from the bed and approached her. Carefully sitting on the arm of her chair, he held her, guiding her head to his chest.
“You can tell me whatever you need to,” he whispered, “Whatever you want to. I’m here for you.”
She threw her arms around him. After a few moments of his comforts, she backed away and looked up at him. He stared back as she leaned forward, closing his eyes as his head began to match her movement. All that remained was to wait for the inevitable meeting of their lips.
Their kiss grew deeper as it grew longer. His mouth opened wider as he took in more and more of her emotion. Koji’s arms ran up and down her back as she tightened her grip around his waist. Wanting more, he leaned in closer. Gravity brought his head down from the clouds for a moment; he lost his balance and he fell into her, knocking her head into the back of the chair. She released her lips and rubbed the back of her head, but guided Koji's mouth back onto her own before the moment was lost.
Koji let his instincts take over, using his mind only as a reminder to continue breathing. It was a non-issue; every breath was Mari, just as every taste, scent, and feeling was Mari. He fell further into the chair, but she didn't react until her right leg brushed up against his side.
As this moment lasted, Koji lost track of time. They could have been in that position for minutes or days, it didn’t matter. His left hand continued to explore, finally settling on her exposed thigh. He was already aroused. He longed to go further, and could feel Mari wanting the same. Neither cared that they just met. Their shared individual experiences made them feel like they had known each other for years.
Koji’s hand began trailing up her leg to the hem of her dress and hand went under for a brief moment; but he forced it to stop there. With Michi due back at any moment, he had to resist the temptation.
Koji and Mari did not unlock their lips until the door unlocked some time later. They released each other, and Koji smiled as they tried to separate into a more decent position. He stumbled a bit as he swung around, almost falling over the other armrest. He and Mari shared a laugh and Koji jumped to his feet and greeted Michi as she walked through the door.
“Hey Michi.” He stopped immediately, a little dizzy because of the sudden change in altitude. Koji got his bearings back and smiled. “How did it go?”
He finally noticed the frown on Michi’s face as she looked past Koji and concentrated on the girl catching her breath on the chair behind him.
“Yeah… um…” Koji backpedaled and sat on the armrest. “This is Mari. She’s been going through the same thing I have and we were just up here talking.” He rubbed Mari’s shoulder and noticed her crimson face. “I guess things just clicked.”
He looked back up at Michi, who appeared no less puzzled. “You know how these things go sometimes,” he added.
Michi continued to stare at Mari, before slowly bringing her eyes up to Koji. Unfazed, he changed the subject. “So did you find Mima?”
“Um… yeah,” Michi replied quietly.
Koji stood, smiled, and gently took her arm. “That’s great! Did you give her the letter?”
She nodded, speechless.
“Did she have any questions? Does she want to talk to me? Now that I think about it, some stuff happened to Cody so it might be a weird letter.”
“No. She’s fine. She’s very happy.”
Koji could tell something was wrong. Her face was blank and expressionless, a sharp departure from her usual bright confidence. “Are you okay? Did something happen while you were there?”
Closing her eyes, she slowly shook her head.
Koji looked back at Mari, who stood up and put a hand on his shoulder. “I hope this isn’t about Mari and I. I mean, we weren’t going to… you know. We’re not trying to creep you out or anything.”
She looked away. “No… of course not.”
Koji knew she was still upset about something, but apparently she didn’t feel like sharing.
“I’m going to… take a walk,” Michi mumbled as she quietly walked out the door.
Koji let her go. There was no sense in chasing her down and demanding an answer.
But it still troubled him. He walked past Mari and laid down on the bed. Mari was important, yes, but he had dragged Michi into this and felt responsible for her. As much as he knew she could stand on her own, he wanted to support her as much as she supported him.
He didn’t notice Mari until she sat on the bed and stroked his hair. “It’s alright. I’m sure she just needs to straighten something out. She’ll be back before you know it.”
Koji looked up at her smiling face. Mari was right. Michi was too strong for anything to get her down for too long. Whatever it was, she was bound to get over it.
“Damn, damn, damn,” Chiaki muttered as he paced back and forth in the alley outside the hotel. During lunch, he had planted a fresh bug on Michi’s dress. He had picked up the conversation with Kensuke fine, but something had happened between then and the meeting with Davis. As a result, he had lost track of them for a few hours.
“Some detective I’m going to be,” he thought. He was doubtful that he’d pick anything up in their hotel room. He wasn’t even sure which room they were in; anything above the second floor wouldn’t pick up even if the bug was working.
Finally, he gave up, stepping out from the alley and into the lamp-lit street. Tracking Michi and Koji was his big chance to prove himself. Despite his early success, ultimately, he blew it. He didn’t even know if the pair got the addresses they were looking for. Without knowing that, the only thing left was for him to return home a failure.
At that moment, Chiaki noticed a girl exiting the hotel resembling Michi. As he took a step forward for a closer look, she turned to him. It was definitely Michi.
He was tempted to sprint out of there, but something was clearly wrong. This wasn’t the same lively Michi he met before.
“Ch… Chiaki?” she asked, barely above a whisper.
Without thinking, he replied, “What’s wrong?”
As instinctive as it was, his concern was sincere. Whatever had happened to transform her from sharp to broken must have been serious.
She didn't respond, instead turning away from him and slumping.
He took a step forward. "Michi?"
She remained immobile. Determine to see her face, he approached her and placed a hand on her shoulder. Chiaki walked around so he could get a better look on her face. He could only make out two closed eyes emitting a slow stream of tears. As he stood in front of her, Michi's head drooped forward, quivering as it rested on Chiaki's shoulder.
Chiaki wanted to back away, but couldn't. He never encountered a
situation like this before, personally or professionally. He did the
only thing he could think of- he pat her head with one hand and
rubbed her back with the other. Chiaki found himself saying something
about how it was going to be alright. But in all honesty, he didn’t
have a clue.
To Be Continued in “Stage Five- Imposter”
It’s always something, isn’t it? Anyone who expected the situation to clear up a bit probably should know better by now. It never gets easy, especially when all that romance stuff gets in the way. And to think- the bad guys haven’t even made themselves known yet. Next time, as our heroes try to pick up the pieces… that’s when the bad guys show up.
I like to refer to each segment as a stage instead of a chapter for various reasons. One is because the story is not entirely about Takato’s journeys, it’s also the story of what went wrong, and how everybody responded to everything going wrong. In that regard, the big picture is slowly revealed in stages (the other reason is because of far too much inspiration from anime that doesn’t call its episodes episodes, but rather layers, lessons, acts, or illusions).
Keeping that in mind, that’s why I waited before revealing the incident with Jim Kido. His murder was on the minds of everybody beforehand, and justifies everybody’s erring on the side of paranoia, but it would have been a little too much information last stage. However, the incident was referred to briefly in Level 1.
The name Mima is a reference to an inside joke among my friends that Cody’s daughter bears an uncanny resemblance to Tomoyo Daidouji from Cardcaptor Sakura. Therefore, everybody in Cody’s history is named after Tomoyo’s voice actress, Junko Iwao, and her characters. Cody’s wife is named after Junko herself, while Mima is named after Iwao’s characters in Perfect Blue and Key the Metal Idol (both aspiring pop stars). Touji is named after the love interest of Iwao’s character Hikari in Evangelion and Akane Aomori (mentioned in Level 1 as “the one that got away”) is named after Akane Aikawa in Magic User’s Club. And for the record, Kensuke is not named after Touji’s sidekick, but rather… well you should read enough Digimon fanfic to know.
Finally, with Michi starting to lose it, it’s only fair to give you an angst alert now. As I’ve told many people through e-mail, Michi is the daughter of Matt and Sora. And therefore, she’s inherited a whole lot of suppressed angst. That will be coming out over the next few stages. And since this is Matt and Sora’s blood, this isn’t that contemporary angst that Jeri and Koichi made popular. We’re talking season one, old school, hardcore, sucked into the cave of darkness angst. So you have that to look forward to.
This ends Level 2: Stage 4 of The Connection.