Ken didn't quite know why he did it. There was no logical reason for him to ever come back to the real world. He could play soccer anywhere, just as easily in the digiworld as the real one.
But some nights, when Wormmon wasn't paying attention, he'd slip through and play on the old field.
"You really do like playing soccer, don't you?"
As a rule, Ken didn't let himself be surprised. As a clause to that rule, if he was surprised, he didn't show it. But the soft, familiar voice coming out of the night startled him so badly, his kick went wild and the ball would have gone out of bounds had Kari not stuck her foot out to stop it. She kicked it back to him.
He stared at her for a moment. "Yes, I do," he answered, capturing the ball and kicking it back to her.
"The only thing you were honest about," she noted, passing it back to him.
"Only thing I was honest about?" he repeated. "Be fair, now. I never lied, and you mustn't make false accusations."
Kari thought back, absently dribbling the ball. "I guess you're right. Don't tell me you're offended?"
"Not offended, but I've committed enough transgressions on my own without being blamed for ones I haven't. You're not too bad at this."
She shrugged. "I've picked up a few tricks. Tai and Davis and all. But you're really holding back."
"There's no reason for me to go all out on you. You know I'm better than you are, so what's the point in overkill? Where's your devoted companion?" he asked unexpectedly.
Ken broke his rule again and laughed. She took advantage of the opening and scored.
"First point," she said cheerfully. "What's so funny?"
"I was actually referring to Gatomon. She obviously didn't accompany you, or she would have already tried to attack me. Patience, I've noticed, is not among her other numerous virtues."
"How do you know so much about her?" Kari asked.
Ken easily scored and they went back to the center of the field. "Come now," he chided. "Didn't you say I'm like a general? What sort of general would I be if I didn't know everything there is to know about my enemies?"
Kari had sort of forgotten he was her enemy. "Well, we don't have to be," she said, struggling to keep the ball.
"Enemies?" He shook his head as he took it back. "Yes, we do. It's a matter of principle. I'm not going to give up, and you aren't going to stop fighting me. And even if I did, there would be no forgiveness, so we'd still be enemiesit'd just be a cold war."
"I'd forgive you."
Ken decided to give up his rule for the night. She was just full of surprises; he wasn't going to be able to avoid it. Still, to maintain his dignity, he laughed harshly. "You would? You would be willing to forgive the fact that I controlled innocent creatures, had them try to kill you, and when that failed, tried to kill you and your friends myself? You'd just exonerate me and we'd go on...playing soccer, perhaps? Please understand if I find that a tad bit hard to believe."
Kari hadn't really listed out his sins like that before. Yet the answer was still the same. "Yes, if you were sincere..."
Ken stopped play and rested a foot on top of the ball. "You really mean it," he stated. "How remarkable."
They continued playing.
"Won't your family worry about you?" Ken asked to break the silence.
"My parents don't get up until five. I'll be back by then."
"Don't play dumb," he reproached. "You know very well I left home."
"I bet they'd welcome you back."
"I bet it would trouble them almost as much as it would annoy me. What with the explanations...where have I been, why did I leave?" Ken shook his head. "No, the inconveniences far outweigh any advantages to that idea."
Kari stared at him in surprise. "Do you do anything without thinking it over, examining it, projecting every possible outcome?"
"I try very hard not to, although I'll confess I didn't anticipate you being here and us having a frank heart-to-heart where you try and get me to bare my soul."
"You adjusted well," she told him.
"I wouldn't be much of a general if I couldn't react to unexpected situations."
She wished he'd stop bringing that up. "What's the score?"
"Six to one," he answered promptly.
"Only six for you?" she asked in astonishment.
"Like I said, you know I'm better than you. I don't have score fifty goals to convince you."
"Again, all thought out."
He was dribbling the ball. Kari thought she'd try and maybe actually block Ken from scoring. She hurried forward, but miscalculated and merely tripped him, unfortunately tripping herself in the process. He landed before her and groaned as her elbow dug into his stomach and her full weight rested on his chest for a moment. She jumped off almost immediately, but Ken found he couldn't get up as fast.
She kneeled back down. "Are you all right?"
"Don't care," he gasped out.
"You don't care?"
"No." He sat up and took a couple of deep breaths. "You shouldn't care. Don't care about how I'm doing. If I had a heart attack and died, you should be glad your enemy's gone."
"My, but that's a harsh view on life."
"It's the survivor's view." He suddenly lunged forward and grabbed her throat, pushing her to the ground. Her eyes widened, but she made no other movement. "You see, you let your guard down, and I could kill you now," he said, as casually as if he were giving her instructions about how to play Donkey Madness.
"Yes, I suppose you could," Kari agreed, trying to ignore the fact that it was getting very hard to breathe.
He looked at her closely. "You aren't afraid."
"No. I don't think you'd go through with it," she said simply.
"What's the real advantage? Sure, you've gotten rid of one of your enemies, but at what cost? Fair play on the soccer field? I just don't think you'll do it."
"You think I worry about fair play? No, the real disadvantage is that they would hunt me down. Of course they would suspect me, and then they'd forget about fair play in the name of revenge." He realized how tight his grip was and let go. "Besides, I've never killed anyone yet, and I don't want to start in cold blood."
She massaged her neck. "You're too kind," she croaked.
He glanced at her, then tilted her jaw upward and examined her throat. "It'll bruise. I apologize."
"Yes," he said brusquely, releasing her.
"Thank you. You're forgiven."
He looked at her blankly. "Why?"
"Because you mean it."
He stood up and absently helped her to her feet. He didn't notice the tiny grin that escaped her at that gesture. "You confuse me," he finally confessed.
"Shall I be blunt?"
This intrigued Kari. "Pray do," she said, borrowing a phrase she'd heard Izzy use once.
"If you were to call the police, you could have me arrested for assault, battery, attempted murder, even. Yet I say, 'I apologize' and you are willing to just pardon all that."
"But you meant it, Ken. I didn't ask for an apology, you just gave it. So why should I hold a grudge?"
"Youyou really believe all this." He couldn't keep the amazement from his tone.
"Ken, I could hear it in your voice. Lie to yourself, lie to me if you must, but I do know the truth." A small grin played at her mouth. "Besides, you're letting me call you Ken. That must mean something."
He didn't have any response to that. To tell the truth, he just hadn't noticed. His name just fell so naturally from her lips. Fell so naturally from her lips? a sardonic inner voice repeated.
"You wouldn't really have killed me anyway," she repeated.
He sighed. "You're right."
She gave him a concerned look. "Ken, what's wrong? You sound almost human."
Ah, this was better ground; familiar ground. Verbal sparring. "Good thing you see right through it to the true icy interior that is the Digimon Emperor." He kicked the ball.
She let the ball pass her. "I don't understand you," she said, stepping forward.
Ken felt the panic rise. Why did he have the urge to actually talk with her? "Fortunately, that's not required in order to hate me," he managed to get out.
"I don't hate you."
He backed away from her. "That may prove a very serious mistake."
"You don't have to push everyone away, you know."
He shook his head. "I don't push people away. I don't let them get close enough to push away."
The frank statement startled her. "Well, there's your problem. Have you ever had a friend?"
Ken ignored the question. "Are we going to play or not?"
"Have you ever cared about anyone?"
"I'll get the ball."
"Why are you afraid to?"
He sighed. "You're not going to leave me alone until I talk to you, is that it?"
"I'll even follow you to your lair in the digiworld." He couldn't see for sure because of the dark, but he suspected her eyes were sparkling.
"Look, Kari" She made a startled noise. "What is it now?" he asked impatiently.
"Youyou said my name. I don't thinkyou've never said any of our names."
"I'll continue the trend, then. If you'll forgive that one lapse, it'll never happen again. So, look, don't get any ideas that you can 'fix' me. If I'm broken, I'm perfectly happy that way."
She just waited for him to answer her question.
He sighed again. "In layman's terms, if you care, then you hurt. It is as simple as that."
"That's what it means to care, to hurt. And the human body is built to resist pain. I'm simply fine-tuning it."
"It's doesn't hurt!"
"Of course it does. If nothing else, even if you have a perfect relationship, you will eventually be parted, by death, a move, or simply losing touch. That hurts. You will be hurt. Why set yourself up?"
"Ibut the happiness"
"Really? It's worth it?" he interrupted. "Shall I try it and then you can decidewas the happiness worth it?"
"I could hurt you."
"You'd have to make me care about you first, according to your theory."
"You already do."
"I most certainly do not!" she said indignantly.
"Why were you so curious about me?"
Kari opened her mouth, then shut it. He was right. "Okay, so what?"
"So...watch me hurt you."
Ken hadn't really thought through his plan. He just wanted to get her to go away; stop asking all these questions. He ultimately wound up choosing a path that just led to a worse situation.
Kari barely had time to think about what he might do before he'd tipped her head upward and kissed her.
At first it wasn't a struggle to keep still; she was too shocked to move. But then sensations began bombarding her and she found Ken to be a surprisingly good kisser. Well, of course. He's good at everything else; why not this?
Ken had meant to pull away right away, show her that caring enough to want just left you aching. Somehow, he forgot his plan. When he finally did remember, he wrenched away so savagely that Kari almost fell over.
She almost didn't recognize his voice, despite standing right behind him. The word was more a growl than anything else.
His back was still to her. "This can't have happened."
"What? What can't have happened?"
I lost control. I stopped thinking and let my emotions get the better of me. "Nothing," he said callously, refusing to look at her. "Forget it."
Kari stepped forward cautiously and rested her forehead on his back. He didn't pull back. Her arms lightly encircled him. He didn't break away.
He found he couldn't move. If he was entirely honest with himself, he didn't want to move.
But this wasn't right.
Yes, it is.
A small voice, nearly dead. The part of him that craved love and caring and wished to get rid of the darkness inside him. The part of him he'd thought died long ago.
Go ahead, accept it. I don't want to. I want to forget it.
I don't want to. I want to forget it.
He couldn't. Selective memory had never been one of his talents. A near-photographic one had, however, and he remembered exactly how her body felt pressed against his, exactly how her kiss shot shivers through him, and the exact amount of desire he felt to kiss her again.
He put the images out of his mind and turned to face her. The moment his eyes met hers, the scathing speech, full of insults and derogatory language, designed to alienate and estrange her, died on his lips.
He just wanted to kiss her again.
She seemed to know it, too, meeting his eyes with a steadiness that unnerved him slightly and keeping her hands around his waist. "Well?" she finally said.
"Don't do this, Kari," he warned. "If you play with fire..."
She leaned forward slightly. "Then I guess I'm about to get burned," she whispered.
His eyes went shadowy. A slight groan, then he kissed her again.
Kari didn't even try to resist this time. It was crazy, it was foolish, but she just wanted to hold onto the moment and never let go.
Not that he gave her a chance to. Burned she asked for, and burned she got. She was aware of his every move, every nuance of pressure that either tempted or satisfied her. "Don't stop, Ken," she moaned. "Please...never...stop."
Ken dimly realized he should be revelling in the fact that he had her begging. But all he really wanted to do was to make her happy. Whatever it took.
And with that realization, he became conscious of the fact that he was in real trouble. How had he let himself forget? Caring equals hurting. You are a fool, Ken Ichijouji. Nothing but an idiot.
With a sigh that almost pained him, he stepped back. "You see, Kari? It hurts."
She stared at him in disbelief. "This was just to prove your point?" she asked incredulously.
He decided to be honest. "No. I never intended for it to get that far. I lost control."
She gazed at him, at his cool demeanor, at his emotionless expression. "You never did,"she accused.
He took her hand and placed it on chest. Even through the shirt, she could feel a heart that was racing.
"You did," she corrected herself in wonder.
She lowered her hand. "But thisthis meant nothing to you."
"No. This meant everything. That's why caring hurts, Kari."
"But--it doesn't have to!" she said, a note of desperation in her voice.
He found he derived no pleasure from this. "No. It does, because I am who I am and you are who you are and neither of us will change. Not for a long while yet."
"And I'm just supposed to send Gatomon after you tomorrow, like always?"
Ken considered it. "Tomorrow you can have a free day. No new control spires, no digimon hunting you. Tomorrow, work yourself up into an absolute fury about me, my perfidy, and then, then we'll fight."
She smiled. He only imagined he saw tears well up. She wouldn't cry over him. "A free day, huh?" she asked in a perfectly steady voice. "You're too kind."
"As I recall, those were the words that got us into trouble in the first place," Ken said over his shoulder as he picked up his soccer ball. But when he turned full around, she was gone. A sad smile played over his face. "Good night, Kari," he said to the darkness.