Ash always acts before thinking. He'll put himself in any danger without hesitation, without considering the consequences for a moment. Sometimes she wonders if he forgets that he's got bones that could be broken, veins that could tear and bleed to death.
He's always been lucky, too. He's gotten a lot of bruises, a lot of scratches; a cut that needed a couple stitches once or twice. He got knocked unconscious a few times, but always got by with nothing more than a bump and a headache. And there's been the time he almost drowned, of course. That was the most scared she'd ever been. But it was all over in a handful of minutes, when he woke up. He was always lucky.
This time it's different.
This time the aftermath is two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and a minor concussion. None of it is life-threatening, the doctor tells them—he looks kind, with bright blue eyes behind round glasses—and none of it should have serious consequences.
But the aftermath is also him lying motionless with blood in his hair. It's her clasping his hand in hers, fingers pressed on his wrist to feel his pulse, clinging to every beat of his heart as she waited ("Stay with him, I'll go call for help", Brock had told her). It's her breath stuck in her throat, her head pounding.
(Please, please, please, hold on.)
It's more waiting, hours of it. The hospital waiting room smelled of disinfectant; it made her nauseous. She dug her nails into her palms, hard, until they left red half-moon marks on her skin. She kept seeing him fall, over and over. When help finally came there was blood on the asphalt, pooling under his head.
("He'll be alright. It's Ash we're talking about, remember?" Brock said, but his voice was trembling a little. She nodded, biting her lips, and in her mind it started happening again.)
The aftermath is sitting for a lifetime on the uncomfortable plastic chair, her knees stinging where she scraped them on the sidewalk, her stomach crumpling every time the door opened, thinking—knowing—that it would be someone coming to tell them that Ash was dead.
Now the doctor smiles. She stares, his words bouncing in her head.
"So… he'll be fine?" Brock asks. The man nods.
"He'll need rest. But he should recover fully."
Misty swallows and takes a breath. Her mouth feels dry. "Can we see him?" she asks. It comes out as little more than a whisper. The doctor thinks about it for a moment.
"He's asleep now", he says, then adds: "But one of you can see him for a couple minutes. Just be quiet."
She turns to look at Brock. He nods. "Go."
She bites her lip. "Can Pikachu come, too?" He's been curled on the floor at her feet the whole time, eyes glued to the door. "He won't disturb, I promise."
The doctor considers it. "Alright. As long as you can guarantee that he won't cause problems."
"He won't". She picks him up; Pikachu climbs on her shoulder like he usually does with Ash. Her knees feel a bit shaky when she stands, the floor unsteady under her feet.
"This way", the doctor says, and he opens the door making way for her. Their steps echo a little along the corridor. She thinks of him clinging to the basket of Team Rocket's air balloon, of his hands losing grip. Of him falling hard on the asphalt and lying still.
(What are you doing, you idiot, you'll get hurt—)
The doctor stops, gesturing to a door. She takes a trembling breath before walking in as if about to dive into water.
The room is quiet.
There are mysterious machines around his bed, humming and drawing his heartbeat in green waves with a muffled beep, beep, beep. His arm is in a sling, there are bandages wrapped around his forehead.
He's never this calm when he's sleeping. He's always tossing and turning, snoring, turning the bed into a battlefield. Something about seeing him lie so still makes her stomach churn, almost painfully. He looks small.
She swallows and walks to the bed. His hand is resting on the blanket. She hesitates, then carefully takes it in hers, stroking his knuckles with her thumb. His hand is warm.
"Hey", she whispers. "Hey, um, it's me. Misty. Pikachu is here too. The doctor said you're going to be fine."
The back of her eyes stings a little. She bites her cheek.
"But you scared me", she adds. She wipes a tear away. "I really thought you were going to die this time. You'd better not do anything like that ever again, you heard me?"
He didn't, of course—he'still sleeping. Misty sniffles and wipes her eyes again, choking a sob in her troath.
"Well, I— I should let you rest now."
She looks at him for a few more moments before turning to leave. His fingers twitch a little as she lets go of his hand. The room remains silent, though; he doesn't wake up.
They take a room at the nearby Pokémon Center for the night. She winces when Brock places a bowl of soup in front of her face.
"I'm not really hungry."
"You haven't eaten since this morning", he points out. "You need to eat something."
She sighs and takes the bowl, and listlessly stirs the soup with the spoon. Brock looks at her.
"He's going to be okay", he reminds her. Misty bites her lip.
"Is it bad that I'm angry at him?"
He raises his eyebrows. "Well, I think I can see why."
"He almost got himself killed", she blurts out, and all of a sudden there are tears burning at the bottom of her eyes again. She blinks them back: "For real this time. Do you think he even thought about it for a moment?"
"Well, he's an idiot."
Togepi gives her a concerned look. It's been asleep in her bag for most of the afternoon. Brock lets out a sigh, then lays his hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. "Eat", he says. "And then try to get some sleep. You'll feel better, and you'll see him tomorrow."
She wipes her eyes with her arm and nods. She really does feel dead tired, after all. Everything in her body feels sore and drained.
She can't sleep, though. She keeps seeing it happen, seeing the blood pooling in the cracks in the asphalt. She turns in her sheets, buries her face in the pillow. She stumbles to the bathroom in the dark and splashes cold water on her face. It doesn't help.
It's almost dawn when she's finally exhausted enough to slip into sleep. Luckily, she doesn't dream.
When they go back to the hospital the next morning, he's awake. He looks pale, his eyes circled with dark shadows, and he's still lying with his back buried in the pillow, but he manages a smile: "Hey, guys".
"Hey", Brock says gently. Pikachu jumps down from her shoulder and hops on the bed before she can stop him. Ash catches him with a slight wince, trying to keep him at a safe distance from his aching ribs.
"Ow. I'm happy to see you too, buddy."
She steps in to grab Pikachu before he can cause any more damage and sits holding him in her lap. "How are you feeling?" Brock asks.
"I'm fine", he assures them. "I just have a bit of a headache. Do you know how long I have to stay here?"
"A while longer, I'm afraid."
He pouts. "But I'm fine now", he insists. Misty shakes her head. He gives her a curious look.
"Huh, is everything okay?"
She sighs. "Yeah, sure."
Brock notices the tension. "You know, I think I saw a vending machine outside", he says. Misty glares at him. "I think I'll go get something to drink. I'll be right back."
He walks out of the room fast enough to leave her with nothing more to do than give the door a murderous look. Ash frowns.
"What's wrong?" he asks, after a couple moments. She turns back to him and shakes her head again with an incredulous sigh.
"Nothing", she snaps. "Nothing at all. You almost died, but nothing is wrong."
"I didn't almost die", he tries to protest. She stares. "I mean, I didn't die, did I?"
She takes a breath. "You nearly cracked your head open", she informs him. Her voice shakes a little. "There was blood everywhere, did you know that? And we had to wait for hours without knowing if you were ever going to wake up. But no, nothing is wrong! Nothing at all!"
He doesn't say anything. There are tears in her eyes again now, and she doesn't want him to see her cry, so she hides her face with her hand and stands up, walking to the door. He calls her back. "…wait."
She bites her lip hard, without replying. She hears the ruffling of the blankets.
She turns to see him standing. He only manages to make half a step before stopping and bringing his hand to his ribs, suddenly pale as a sheet. She sees him stagger and rushes back to catch him, wrapping her arms around his body before he can fall. He leans on her with a groan. She feels warmth, weight—he's there, he's actually there. Alive.
"What did you think you were doing?" She holds him, her heart hammering in her chest. Carefully, she helps him sit and lie down again. "You're hurt, you can't just decide to stand up like that!"
He breathes in, his hand still pressed to his chest. Then gives her a strained smile.
"Well, you came back."
"What was I supposed to do, let you fall face first on the floor?" she sighs, one hand tightened around his good shoulder to keep him from trying again. "You're an idiot."
He looks away for a moment. "Alright, listen, I'll be more careful next time, okay?" he tries. "It's not like I was planning to fall, y'know."
"Well, thank goodness you aren't that much of an idiot."
He puffs his cheeks and stays silent for a moment. "I'm sorry I made you worry", he says finally. "But I didn't do it on purpose."
"I know." She lets go another sigh. She keeps her hand on his shoulder. "You never do it on purpose. That's the point."
"What does that mean?"
"It's ridiculous how often you put yourself in danger without even thinking. You don't think, that's the problem! I was worried sick, and Brock, too, and Pikachu. You have no idea how much you scared us!"
She raised her voice more than she intended to. He winces a bit again. "My head hurts."
"Good, maybe it'll serve as a reminder", she snaps. Then breathes slowly, trying to force herself to calm down. "I'm just saying that you should think about us too. Sometimes. There are people who care about you, you know. It's not nice, thinking that someone you care about is going to die."
For a while he doesn't say anything. He bites his lip, looks away again. "I'm sorry", he says in the end, without raising his eyes, and this time it sounds like he actually is.
She strokes his shoulder with her thumb, slowly. "I know."
Ash looks at her. "Are you still mad?"
He pouts. She sighs for what feels like the millionth time. "Okay. Listen: you try to rest and feel better, and do everything your doctor says, and I'll try not to be mad anymore. Deal?"
He thinks about it. "Deal", he says, then adds: "How long do I have to rest? I feel fine".
"Yeah, I saw that when you almost crashed to the floor ten minutes ago", she replies. He looks as if he'd already forgotten about it, or hoped she would have. She begins to shake her head again, then gives up, and lets go a slight laugh instead. "You're unbelievable."
She gives his shoulder a gentle squeeze before letting go. She hesitates a little, then takes his hand and holds it in hers. He looks at her curiously, but he doesn't say anything, nor tries to pull back. His hand is warm like it was last night, but now he's awake, too, and his fingers curl a little around hers.
Brock comes back a few minutes later, holding a soda can. He looks at their hands and seems satisfied enough. "Feeling better?" he asks with a smile.
Ash nods as Brock sits on the other chair. Pikachu has curled up at the bottom of the bed, careful not to hurt his trainer. Misty looks at Ash's hand, at the way his fingers rest gently on her knuckles.
She feels better too.