The last thing Ash knows is that he's holding on to Lugia with every ounce of his strenght, arms and legs and fingers clasped tight, while its back arches and shakes and almost tries to send him flying. Then there's the crash, knocking all air out of his lungs, and the sea is a million icy needles digging deep into his skin and his bones.
He doesn't have time to realize he's drowning—the cold and the pain are so sudden and intense that there's no space left to feel anything else. He thinks of the sphere for a moment, thinks of his friends waiting for him, but it all slips through his fingers like water while his body sinks down, down into the frozen ocean, and before the pain can last any longer, thankfully, there's only numbness.
You can do it, Ash.
We know you can.
I never get scared out in the ocean, she told Melody not longer than a couple hours ago, but now she looks at the waves three times as tall as her and she is. Because she saw him disappear between those waves and if she fails, if she isn't strong enough to fight them, if she drowns, he will die too. Her fingers tremble while she tries to tie the rope around her waist. Tracey has to help her fasten the knot.
The sea is so cold it takes her breath away. Hold on, she tells herself, and him, wherever he is. Hold on, please, don't give up yet. She can hear Pikachu calling.
When she finally reaches him, Ash is almost as cold as the sea. She can't hear him breathing, the waves are too loud, so she just holds him as tight as she can with fingers frozen numb as she yanks the rope to tell Tracey to pull them back. She fights to keep his head above the water and thinks please, please, please.
Her chest hurts when she catches her breath on shore. She crawls to him as soon as her legs let her; he's alive, his chest rises and falls under her palms, but weakly, barely, as if it could lie still any moment. His lips are blue. She shakes him: "Come on, Ash, breathe". He doesn't wake up.
Her throat tightens in a tearful knot. "Please, Ash, please, you can't—" she can't go on, but it doesn't matter, because suddenly now he shudders a little and opens his eyes, and the knot loosens so abruptly that she doesn't know how she manages not to burst into sobs.
"The sphere", he gasps, sitting up. He tries to stand and almost falls back down, and his legs barely hold his weight, but he's alive—she did it, she fought the waves and found him and brought him back alive. He doesn't want their help to reach the temple, stubborn as always, not even when he trips and hits his knees hard on the stone steps. He's got the whole world to save. But she did, too, because he wouldn't have made it alone this time.
But it's alright. He's not alone.
When everything is over, Ash lets himself fall on the bed in one of the rooms Melody and her sister found for them. He's tired. Everything is sore and heavy. He smiles when Pikachu jumps next to him on the blankets, though, and lets him cuddle up against his shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
Misty is standing on the doorway. He nods. "Just a little bit tired".
"Well, you sure did a lot today", she says with a smile, walking in. She stops by the other bed and takes off her pink hoodie. It's wet, Ash notices; it leaves a small puddle on the floorboards.
He doesn't remember everything. Misty undoes her ponytail and untangles her hair with her fingers. It's wet too, it curls a little above her shoulders. He thinks of Lugia falling in the ocean, thinks of waking up on the shore. Thinks of her being the first thing he saw.
"You should sleep", Misty says, walking back past his bed. "You'll feel better after you get some rest."
He nods again. Then bites his lip. "Hey, Misty?" he calls when she gets to the door. She stops.
But he doesn't know how to ask. "You, huh, should get some sleep too", he says instead, a little clumsily. She looks surprised, then smiles again.
"I will", she assures him. "I'm just going to take a very long hot shower first."
She leaves, closing the door behind her. Ash keeps staring at the doorframe for a while, frowning. He remembers her leaning over him, her hair sticking to her cheeks in wet clumps. He should probably say thank you when she comes back. But he's so, so tired. Thinking makes his head hurt a little bit. He closes his eyes, breathing in, and soon he forgets about everything.
When Misty comes back, Ash is sound asleep, still dressed and lying sideways on top of the blankets. His clothes are still damp. "You're going to catch a cold", she whispers, shaking her head, but she doesn't want to wake him up. She pulls a blanket from her bed and lays it gently over him. For a while she just looks at him, looks at his chest rise and fall as he snores.
He almost died today. She cried a little under the shower, with her face in her hands, letting relief and exhaustion overcome her for a brief handful of moments before reminding herself that it didn't happen—that she stopped it from happening.
She kisses his hair before leaving, quickly, just a light peck above his temple. He doesn't wake up. Pikachu looks at her, shiny black eyes peeking from under the blanket. She smiles, and raises a finger to her lips, to tell him to hush.
And Ash is never really alone. He's got me.
She can sleep too. It might almost happen again tomorrow, or the next day, but he's safe for now. And she'll be there the next time, too.