If you want to, you should maybe read Ken's chapter of my other fanfiction "Fine Lines" before reading this, Reading that is really not necessary to understand this one shot, but it makes for interesting garnish.
Standard disclaimers apply reviews and concrit are appreciated.
"A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. "
-Edward de Bono
Memories of Grey.
'Can you see it?' Kari asks in a hushed whisper so the others don't overhear.
Not that this is likely; they're too busy trying to work out the parking meter for the restaurant. Yolei is arguing (loudly) with Davis about whose turn it is to pay, and Cody is very pointedly and embarrassedly not looking at either of them. The Digimon, who are used to these things, are having a conversation about the nice smells coming from the kitchen. At least, Ken thinks that's what they're talking about, but their voices are muffled and distant and he has to strain to hear.
Not one of them can see what's going on all around them. They seem a million miles away. All except for Kari, that is, who seems so close that they're sharing each other's static.
'Mm. Yes.' He answers her. 'It's dark today. And cold, too.'
'It's always cold.'
'Mm. Can't you tell?'
'Well, no. I guess I couldn't...' To be honest, Ken had gotten used to the cold a long time ago. Now he no longer shivered or trembled in its presence. It was simply there. 'Sometimes it was windy,' he added, as if that might be relevant. 'The winds blew hard enough to tear kites apart.'
'Not that you'd want to fly a kite on this particular beach,' Kari says, evenly, staring out into the ocean. It seems quite far away from them. Maybe a mile or so. But Ken can make out the softer grey flecks of foam against the deeper grey waves. The sky shifts and changes from grey matte to pale yellow, where the ocean is just touching the real world, like dirt mixed in with honey.
Ken ponders for the millionth time, how they have come to be here. After all, it's been a long time. Four whole years. That means that Sam has been dead for eight years, Ken hasn't been called the Digimon Emperor for six, and hasn't felt ripped up inside by guilt for nearly three. And yet, somehow, he keeps ending up back here. He wouldn't be surprised if he kept ending up back here for most of his life.
'You're not freaking out,' Kari says, seeming mildly surprised.
'Neither are you.'
'...Yeah, I guess not. I must be getting used to it.'
For a few minutes they simply stand there, listening to the waves, the distant sound of Yolei reeling off a list of their past restaurant visits, trying to work out who's turn it is to pay the parking meter, and Davis complaining about being hungry. Their voices are comforting and familiar and Ken hangs onto them mostly out of habit rather than a genuine fear of being swept away.
'So, come here often?' He voices it like a joke, because that's what it is. A game that the universe is playing. Ken isn't all that sure whether it's playing it on them, or on all the people around them. Are they in on the joke, or the butt of it? He can never quite work it out.
Either way, frankly, Ken would rather be laughing.
Kari smiles a little. 'Not really. Not anymore, anyway. I used to dream about it a lot, but I think I only came here two or three times. Once with you, remember?' She pulls her cardigan tight around her shoulders ad looks up into the curdling grey sky. 'There was always somebody to pull me out . What about you, Ken?'
Ken considers lying for a moment, and then realises that he doesn't have to. Kari understands. 'All the time.'
'Really?' Kari sounds surprised. 'But why?'
'I don't know. Do you know why you come here?'
Kari doesn't have an answer for him. She turns back to the ocean, and Ken can't help but feel relieved that her eyes are no longer burrowing into him. Kari's eyes do that. Something about her shines so brightly that it almost seems to look right through you.
'There must be a storm coming in,' Kari goes on, quietly. 'Or else Daemon's conjuring up something nasty.'
'You think he could do that?' Ken asks; and that at least makes him feel more concerned.
Kari shuffles. No question about it –they are sharing each other's static. It feels as if a bubble of cold electricity is wrapping around them, separating them from the outside world and drawing them slowly into this one, and into each other. 'I'm not sure there's anything he can't do.'
'Except that. Thank goodness.'
Ken isn't sure if she's trying to reassure him or herself. He reaches out and squeezes her shoulder. 'It's a big world. He could be anywhere. Besides, I'm not even all that sure we're totally here. Tangibly, I mean. He might not even see us if he did show up.'
Kari's lip twitches. 'When we met him I imagined he could see everything... So, just to clarify, you haven't been thinking any particularly depressing thoughts today, right?'
'N-no, not that I'm aware of.'
'Oh. Good. Me neither. Of course that would suggest that something else has pulled us here.'
Ken shrugs slightly. To be honest, he often ends up here with no prior warnings or indications why. He wasn't always sad, or depressed or lonely at the time, so he's not sure the Dark Ocean is tied into his emotions anymore. It's probably connected to something much deeper now.
Like their souls, for instance.
Ken wonders whether he should be disturbed by how little that frightens him. Then he realises that no, he probably shouldn't. He knows better now. 'I wonder whether we really need to be pulled anymore. Maybe the Ocean is just a part of us now... and it keeps pulling us back because it likes us.'
'The sense of our being here,' Ken explains. 'Like... we're attractive to it. Like moths and flames. Just think, if this place feeds on emotion, then after everything we've seen and done, we probably taste like a ten course meal, or something.'
After saying this, Ken realises that it doesn't say exactly what he meant it to say, but it's probably the best explanation he can come up with. Truthfully, he can't think of any reason for their coming here now other than that the Ocean wanted them. He certainly didn't ask to come. And he's no longer afraid of the ocean, as he used to be, so it can't feed upon his fear. Or on Kari's either, for that matter. The anxiety in Kari's eyes right now is only the memory of fears she's already experienced. They're not fears for the present. In her present there is only confusion.
'You make it sound as though the Dark Ocean is alive, Ken.'
'...Well, I suppose it could be. There are things alive out here, aren't there? You said you met them once.'
Kari shivers. 'Yeah, but I'd rather not talk about them.'
'Sorry. I wouldn't be too concerned, though,' Ken says, and surprised himself by how much he means it. 'In all the time I've been here, I've never once met him.'
What most people don't realise is that entering the Dark Ocean isn't like stepping through a Digiport, or opening a door to another world. There's no such strict divide between here and there. The Dark Ocean is the place where spirit and flesh gets tangled up with data. It wasn't created, like Malomyotismon's nightmare world. It's not some fantasy or illusion. It's here. It's a solid reality that just happens to feed off of emotion. And that's not unusual, because all living things have to feed off something. Ken would even go so far as to say that this place probably has a thriving ecosystem (or at least, huge, noisy, flying creatures that hang around above the clouds). It was always here, overlapping with senses that most normal humans don't pay any attention to. But even they catch glimpses of it now and then, through the corner of their eyes. Every time you have a nightmare. Every time somebody walks over your grave...
And then there are people like Ken, who came to the Ocean of their own free will. And Kari, who couldn't help but end up there.
Sometimes, Ken wonders whether they might not be the only ones to see this place first hand. The more he thinks about it, the more he realises that they probably aren't. They're surely not the only people who have felt the darkness here.
When the Ocean has called to you once, you can never truly leave it behind.
Kari smiles. 'You know you should've told us. I would've come here more often, if you needed the company.'
'I didn't want to make you worry. It's really not that bad here anymore. Whenever I want to leave, I can just... leave, Kari. I think about something important to me and I use that to pull myself away. It's easy.' Like falling off a cliff and expecting somebody to catch you before you hit the bottom.
'Still, you should.' Kari insists. 'It's not good to spend too much time alone in places like this. So promise me, next time you'll let me know, okay?'
Ken chuckles quietly. 'Sure. I'll hop into your dreams and let you know.'
'Heh. Sure you will.'
The Ocean bothers them, Ken thinks, in the same way that some people are bothered by the monster under the bed. As they grow older their fear wanes until they can walk around quite comfortably in the dark. But sometimes, just sometimes, probably even when they're old and grey, they'll need to leave their room in the middle of the night, and find themselves hesitating at the doorway, wondering what might lurk beneath the mattress or just outside the door. You know that you're too old for such childish fears. But there's still always that moment of confusion.
It's in these moments that the boundary between worlds is weakest. The Dark Ocean drifts through and touches upon people like Ken and Kari who have been called to its darkness for such a long time that they can barely remember the first.
Fortunately Daemon hasn't worked this out yet. Hopefully he never will.
'Kind of makes me wish I was any good at art,' Ken says, eventually, framing the oceasn with his fingers, the way he's seen them do on television. 'If I could, then I'd like to paint this.'
Kari reaches out and curls both of her hands around his. Her fingers are warm and tingle with energy, and Ken realises how long it's been since he shared the Dark Ocean with anybody else.
The last person had been Kari too.
And they've probably been here long enough today.
'So... what do you usually think about?' Kari asks. 'When you want to leave the Ocean, I mean? What do you use to pull you back?'
Before Ken can answer, there is a loud sound from somewhere behind them. It must be loud, because it's breaking through the fog between the worlds and reaching out to them, sounding almost as loud as the waves are. Nobody but them is ever that loud here.
It's Davis, calling out for them. Davis who is almost exactly their opposite, in that while Ken and Kari attract the darkness like a magnet, Davis's mere presence shoves it back. The Ocean doesn't even like to touch him. In fact, the greyness seems to shift away from him, like butterflies slipping out from beneath a shadow. When Davis grins, the clouds scatter.
'Come on, already, guys! They're gonna give away the table if we're not there in ten minutes! If you don't hurry up I'm gonna eat your starters!'
Ken looks at Kari, smiling wryly. '...Take a wild guess.'
Kari chuckles and tugs on his sleeve. They turn away from the ocean, Ken blinks several times in quick succession, and the Ocean starts to fade away as if it had never been there.
Homages and Gacks.
"He voices it like a joke. Because that's kind of what it is. A game that the universe is playing, and Ken isn't all that sure whether it's playing it on them, or on all the people around them."
Was taken from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, a quote from the character Q: "It is a joke. A joke on me, a joke of the universe."
"The dark ocean is just... there, overlapping with senses that most normal humans don't pay any attention to. Every time someone shudders. Every time somebody walks over your grave..."
The concept of "walking over your grave" is an Old Wives Tale circulated to explain those cold shudders of anxiety that people sometimes get for no apparent reason. Wasn't sure whether some people might need that clarifying or not. I hear it's not a widely known aphorism.