At seventeen, Kari had not intended to find her way back to the Digital World. She wasn't sure at what point she had "outgrown" it - maybe somewhere between college entrance exams and boys, finding a part time job or looking for colleges.
These weren't such big problems, she would admit, and that they were awfully normal stressors for any young adult. But stress, Kari did not handle well, and it was not much surprise to her to find herself on the gritty blue-green earth of the Dark Ocean once again.
She was no longer a child anymore, though, and knew this would not affect her self-control the way it had some time ago. She could leave when she wanted to. But the familiar detachment and morose settled over her quite agreeably now, and she wanted to give herself a moment to simply wallow.
Kari had not seen Gatomon in years – it was to be expected, that the moment she reentered the Digital World, her partner would find her yet again. Kari smiled tightly, and lifted the Digimon up to her chest, hugging her closely.
"I missed you," Kari said.
"What's wrong?" Gatomon said, despite herself: Kari had hardly been here for a minute, and Gatomon had so much more to ask her then simply what was wrong. Kari released her hold on the Digimon, and her smile faded.
"It's nothing," Kari said. It really was nothing, she knew, or certainly nothing that Gatomon would find merit in being so distraught over. It was unfortunate that Gatomon's help was to no avail, but Kari simply did not think it was troublesome enough to tell her.
Gatomon's tail sunk slowly to the ground and dragged across the gritty dirty beneath her feet. There was something troubling Kari of course, but it would do no good to question it. So she simply sat next to her, and waited faithfully for Kari to say something again. She did not.
But Ken Ichijouji would. Gatomon had not seen the boy in the Digital World prior, so it was quite a coincidence to see the two Digidestined in the same area, at the same time. The Digidestined did not oft visit now, and Gatomon wondered why. Perhaps there was more to this human world, as one got older.
"Long time, no see," Ken said, more to Kari than Gatomon. Wormmon, previously held in Ken's loose embrace, had hopped out to join Gatomon. Ken took his place next to Kari, who had hardly acknowledged him.
"Yeah, it has been," Kari said quietly, rubbing her shoe in the dirt. "Do you come here often?"
"No." Ken pushed a stray hair from his eyes, though he had long ago forgone the long locks for a shorter, closer crop. "I've been busy with entrance exams... and trying to figure out which university to attend."
"Where do you want to go?" Kari asked, her interest suddenly piqued: where would the former boy genius attend college? It was a question that even the public had asked for years, and they had never gotten their answer.
"I don't know," Ken said. Kari wasn't terribly surprised at this - after all, there was a reason Ken had found himself in the Dark Ocean as well. Maybe he was feeling the same as she.
"How do you choose when everyone expects you to go to only the best?" he continued. "Frankly, I don't even know what I want to do, or if I even want to go to university. I just want to train for a single career, and to be happy with it. But I bet it would disappoint my family... after all, I'm sure Sam would have wanted to go to university."
Kari closed her eyes and reveled in the familiar sentiments. Even Tai had inadvertently done this to her by choosing the best university in the area, and diving into his school career head-first with bright eyes and a clear outlook on what he was to become after he graduated. Kari herself did not know what she wanted to do, making it all the more difficult to choose. History had indeed repeated itself; where Tai had succeeded and she had failed, unable to do half as much as he could.
"Ken," she said suddenly, "what if we never become more than what we were? We were great digidestined... and that was it. Nothing we can ever do will top that."
Ken shrugged. "I don't think that's the case. It's a matter of deciding what we want to do... but it's not as easy as we thought it would be."
But Kari shook her head, and barreled on to make her case in point. "T.K. says that we'll never be able to do anything better than being digidestined. He said that college is just meaningless, and that we're only destined to become just like everyone else now. We won't stand out... we won't ever be special again."
Suddenly, Kari realized just why she was wasting away in the Dark Ocean - repeating what T.K. had said to her made her feel like a fool. He had influenced her outright.
"Are you and T.K. still together?" Ken asked, after waiting several moments. Kari continued to rub her shoe into the dirt, almost anxiously.
"No," she said. She imagined her and T.K.'s last moments together before she had ended it. At seventeen, he saw fit to begin writing his memoirs, and what his life had been like as a digidestined. Realizing her boyfriend was still stuck in a life they had left years ago, Kari had stormed out.
"Going to university is pointless," he had said just before she left, throwing the essays aside that she had written for college entry, ones that she had kindly asked him to proofread for her. "We've already outlived our usefulness."
So she had done the right thing, she decided, but it still hurt to be told that. Somewhere, she must have listened to T.K. too much, to believe that she could never be more than what she was. "He said we would always be a disappointment... to the rest of the world, we're only digidestined."
"He's a fool," Ken said, realizing that he himself had thought that way once - he thought only of his life as the Digimon Kaiser and not of the contribution he had made to the real world. The real world, to him, had been useless. It would be a pity to see T.K. assume the same sentiments, after witnessing Ken experience it himself.
"I know," Kari said quietly.
With some strange anger and empathy, Ken held his tongue and instead moved his hand over Kari's. It was a strange gesture to him still to execute, as some shyness had never quite left him from his adolescence. But he felt right and unabashed somehow; running the tips of his fingers over Kari's hand as hers slowly began to intertwine with his.
"You'll definitely do something great," Ken said. "You could never do anything less than that... I always thought that you were perfect."
Kari wanted the time to answer, but her heart leapt to great to even allow her to open her mouth, lest her heart simply jump from her throat as it felt prepared to do. Instead, she leaned against her free hand, and moved her lips to his cheek.
Suddenly, the Dark Ocean no longer desired her presence, and forced her quite quickly from her seat by the waterfront. She hadn't been given the time to even say goodbye, or see the look on Ken's face - though she was not quite sure she had wanted to see it, since she thought the move was much too impulsive for her own good.
Although she was alone in her room now, faced with an open window of Odaiba's humidity, she was elated. She turned around, relishing that she instead stood on Earth instead of the Dark Ocean. Her laptop had remained open as she had left it, a college essay blinking unfinished and patiently awaiting her return. She returned to it, minimizing the window, and opened the browser to begin instead an email.
Call me, it read simply, before being sent away to Ken Ichijouji. If he was still in the Dark Ocean, she realized, it would take him some time to respond to it. But the wait was worth it, she decided, for it had been some time since she had truly been excited for something.
University would figure itself on its own, she hoped. For now, Ken was something to look forward to.