Ash isn't feeling too good today—he woke up with a dry mouth and a burning throat, and halfway through the morning a dull ache started pounding behind his eyes. Now it's afternoon, and the burning is in his chest too, and his head is throbbing.
He doesn't get sick often; he has vague memories of catching a flu when he was around six or seven and lying bored under a pile of blankets because mom wouldn't let him step outside, and of cough syrup that tasted nauseatingly sweet. He's gotten a cold from time to time, but nothing really worth spending time in bed for. Right now, though, a bunch of blankets to bury himself into wouldn't sound too bad.
The weather isn't helping, either. It started snowing a couple hours ago, and it's not even the fun kind of snow, the one that falls in big soft flakes and turns everything white. This is more like half-frozen rain, and it's just cold and sharp and annoying.
"Where are we?" Misty looks over Brock's shoulder, trying to see the map. It got wet at the edges, with tiny faded spots where the snowy rain washed away the ink, and Brock has to hold it tight to keep it from flying away. He stares at it for a couple more moments, pursing his lips.
"Well, the good news is we aren't completely lost yet", he says finally. Misty raises an eyebrow.
"And the bad news is?"
"We are about… half a mile away from where we're supposed to be" He points at something. "We should have turned left instead of right here, I think".
She shakes her head. "Well, figures. I knew we shouldn't have listened when someone said we should go right".
She says it snarkily, as if expecting a remark, but he doesn't really have the energy to come up with one. Hearing silence, she frowns a little and turns to look at him.
"Hey, is everything alright?"
He shrugs. "Of course. Why?"
"You're being very quiet". She gives him a suspicious stare; he doesn't like it, because somehow she's always really good at guessing what's going through his head, so he looks away.
"Well, what's wrong with it?"
"Nothing wrong, it's just weird" She turns back to the map and takes her backpack off, to tuck Togepi inside. "Anyway, we need to get somewhere or we're going to freeze to death".
Brock sighs. "If we keep going this way we're probably just going to get further into the forest", he says, then pauses to think. "Okay, listen. There should be a cliff around here. If I get there I should be able to take a better look around and tell which path is the right one. You two wait here, I'll be right back, alright?"
"Alright". Misty wraps her arms around her body, shivering a little. "Are you sure you won't get lost?"
"I won't", he assures her. "I'll be back in a minute, it doesn't look too far away. I'll call out in case I have troubles getting back here".
She nods, and he walks away after one more "I'll be right back". Ash lets out a tired breath; it puffs white in the cold. His throat still burns, feeling swollen and raspy. It hurts a bit to swallow. Pikachu looks at him a little concerned, perched on his shoulder.
It's snowing heavier now. It's taking a while, because everything is already wet from the rain, but the ground is starting to turn white at their feet. Misty draws a line with her shoe, sweeping some snow away. She bites her lip and looks around, then steps off the path, making way through the branches.
"What are you doing?" he asks. She shrugs while the bushes close in behind her.
"We're going to turn into snowmen standing here. Maybe there's something we can use as shelter."
He watches as she takes a few more steps forward. His head hurts; he brings a hand to his temples, rubbing them slowly.
There's a shriek. Startled, he looks up—the spot where she was standing no longer than a couple moments ago is empty. He blinks, and his stomach crumples as he thinks Team Rocket, thinks something attacked her, and a second later he's running.
He only very barely manages to stop in time not to fall face first down a slope. It's steep and slippery, hidden in the bushes, and he waves his arms to regain his balance, staggering backwards. Misty shakes snow off her hair with an ow.
He lets out a breath halfway held in his throat, his heart still racing a little. "Are you okay?" he calls. "What happened?"
She shoots up a glaring look. "What do you think happened? I fell!"
"Did you get hurt?"
"Don't think so". She checks her backpack to make sure Togepi is alright, then props herself up to stand. But she staggers as soon as she tries to place weight on her left foot, and falls back down with a yelp.
"My ankle—I think I twisted it."
She tries again, and again falls back to the ground. Ash shakes his head.
"I'll come down, wait there."
"Well yeah, where do you think I could go", he hears her grumble. Carefully, he lets himself slide down the slope—it's steeper than he thought, and the snow crumbles away under his feet—and crouches next to her. Pikachu follows right after, slipping in his trail.
Misty holds her ankle in her hands. It looks like it's swelling a bit, her skin a bruised purple-ish under her fingers. "Does it hurt?" he asks, thinking it looks like it does, and she sinks her teeth in her lip a little.
"A bit, yeah", she says. Ash frowns. Brock would know what to do, probably, but Brock isn't there, and he does not.
There's still snow in her hair, and on her eyelashes, and on her clothes. It's coming more and more, falling in big flakes, and she shivers and hugs her knees close.
(And he's shivering too, his throat is burning and his chest is burning and his face is, too, but he's suddenly so cold at the same time and his head feels so heavy.)
"Okay, I'll—maybe I can carry you back up". He tries to shake the feeling off, even if it doesn't seem to work very well. Misty shakes her head with a skeptical sigh.
"You wouldn't be able to carry me, I probably weigh as much as you do."
"Of course I would be", he protests, but in reality he isn't all that sure. He would, normally, but right now his legs feel a little wobbly, a little unsteady. He puffs his cheeks. "Alright, I can help you, then".
She finds nothing to retort this time, so he leans closer and ducks to place her arm around his shoulders. She grasps the fabric of his shirt and almost tumbles on him as he tries to stand: "Ow—ow! Careful, it hurts!"
"Sorry". Cautious, he tightens his arms around her waist, trying to get a steadier grasp. "Better?"
She replies with a grumbly yeah, looking away. Ash turns back to the slope and feels his stomach sink a little: he can help her walk, maybe, but there's no way he can climb back up, not with her weighing him down and not with the snow making everything slippery. She must think the same, because she sighs again and asks, "So what are we gonna do?"
He bites his cheek, thinking. "Brock!" he tries calling then, "Hey! Brock! Are you—"
He can't go on—a coughing fit cuts his words in half. It hurts deep down in his chest, sudden and sharp. Misty looks at him, her eyebrows in a frown.
"Ash? Are you okay?"
"Yeah", he groans, then coughs again. "I just—I think I caught a cold or something".
She doesn't look too convinced, but she calls for Brock while he catches his breath. She calls and calls, but no answer comes, and after a while she gives up, shaking her head. "We'd better get out of this snow at least".
"Brock won't find us if we leave."
"And we'll freeze if we stand here much longer."
He can feel her tremble a little. There's wind now too, squeezing icy cold in his shirt and his jacket and blowing snowflakes in his eyes when he looks up at the slope again. He blinks it away. "Alright, let's find something. Can you walk?"
"I think so". She grasps him tighter and the wind pushes her hair in his face. They manage a few wobbly steps; there's enough snow on the ground now for their shoes to sink a bit. Pikachu follows jumping from one footprint to the other. Misty falters every time she puts down her left foot, leaning on him and almost tugging him down at times.
(And pain shoots through his head, pulsating and red, and "Are you sure you're okay?" Misty asks a couple more times. He nods and forces his lips in a smile.)
"Look there", she says after a while. She's shivering harder now, and her voice trembles too. They've been following the slope, now more like a wall. He looks in the direction she's pointing at: there's a small opening in the rocks, a crack maybe large enough for a person to fit through.
It is big enough, they discover when they finally reach it, and he helps Misty get inside and sit. She takes off her backpack and hugs it tight, to warm Togepi and herself; and Pikachu immediately curls in his lap when he sits down with his back to the wall, tucking himself under his jacket. It's still freezing (he sees Misty's breath draw white clouds in the thin darkness), but at least it's not snowing on them anymore.
"Maybe we can light a fire", he suggests; his fingers hurt from the cold. She looks up.
"I can call Charizard out."
"We don't have any wood."
"I could go outside and get some."
"It's been snowing for hours", she points out with a sigh. "Everything is wet by now. It wouldn't burn."
He pouts. "Well, get a better idea then".
She doesn't seem to have one. She draws her knees closer to her chest, still shivering. He looks at her for a handful of moments, biting his cheek; then takes off his jacket and hands it to her.
She frowns, and looks at the jacket and then at him. He shrugs.
"Take it. So you won't be cold."
"But you will."
"Aah, I'm fine", he tries to assure her—but his voice comes out thick and hoarse and his throat tightens in a gasp and he coughs again and again, and sharp knives plunge deep at the bottom of his chest. Misty looks at him, then leans over and lays a hand on his forehead. Her eyes widen.
"…you're burning!" She sounds scared almost; her hand lingers for a few more moments, her fingers cold and pleasant. "Why didn't you say anything? How long have you been feeling sick?"
"I'm not sick, I'm fine", he mumbles. But his words still sound syrupy and strange and he doesn't think she'll believe it. She gives him an angry stare, then sighs and moves closer, careful not to hurt her ankle. She yanks his jacket, spreads it, and lays it on his lap and on hers.
"There. We'll share."
"I don't need—" he begins to say, but his head hurts so much and he's feeling so tired, and he shuts up when she glares at him again. She curls back up around her knees and stares at the cave wall.
There's silence. He listens to her breath and to the soft thumps of the snow falling from branches outside, like sporadic lonely footsteps. He closes his eyes after a while. He thinks of the time he got sick as a kid: mom brought him a giant bowl of ice cream for dinner, because his throat hurt too badly to eat anything else, and she sat on his bed and together they looked at a picture book. He pointed at the Pokémon on the pages and she made up stories for each one of them, and he listened until his eyes grew heavy.
He hears Misty fumble with something. He opens his eyes to see her rummage in her bag, holding Togepi on her knees: she finds half a chocolate bar, wrapped in tinfoil. She hands it to him.
He shakes his head. "I'm not really hungry".
She stares, frowning. "Are you really feeling that bad?"
"I'm not", he tries insisting, but it's the kind of stare than can see right through him, and she doesn't even begin to believe it.
"I don't think I've ever seen you refuse food before", she points out. Then thinks for a moment. "You were already feeling sick before Brock left, right? That's why you were that quiet. Why didn't you say anything?"
Ash bites his lip. "I thought it'd go away", he mumbles, pouting a little. His voice is raspy, shaking just a bit. "I never get sick".
"Well, looks like you are now" She shakes her head with an irritated sigh. "Brock would've probably had something to help you feel better. What were you going to do, wait until you passed out so we'd have to drag you around?!"
He puffs his cheeks and looks away. "I thought there was no need to say, alright? You don't need to get mad".
He hears another sigh. Then silence, and the soft crackle of the foil. She snaps the chocolate in two and leaves one half in front of him:
"In case you change your mind."
He tries eating some, but it's too sweet and it just makes his throat even more sour. He lets Pikachu have the rest.
The snow keeps falling. Outsite of their cave the forest is white, lying silent under a thick blanket. He starts feeling groggy after a while, shudders running down his spine. He thinks of the picture book, the colors bright and vivid in his mind. He closes his eyes again.
Misty grasps his hand in hers, squeezing a little. "Hey. Don't fall asleep".
"But I'm sleepy", he protests. Her voice is softer now, worried.
"You shouldn't sleep in the cold. You might freeze to death and never wake up."
He shakes his head a little, eyes still closed. "I'm not freezing to death, I'm fine". The words are spiky, rubbing his throat raw. She doesn't say anything for a moment. Then lays an arm on his shoulders, gently, and pulls him closer.
"What are you doing…?" he groans. She's warm. She touches his forehead again and holds him tighter, stroking his shoulder and his arm.
"Trying to keep you from freezing. Since you won't listen."
He doesn't have the energy for a reply. He leans on her shivering.
"Do you think Brock is okay?" he whispers after a while; it hitches in his chest, coming out muffled and faint. She understands somehow, though.
"I hope so."
His head hurts bad. The cold claws deep in his bones, but breathing burns like needles, like fire. Misty shakes him a bit.
"You aren't going to die on me, right?" She says it lightly, like it's a joke, but her voice cracks just a little at the end, trembling below the surface. He tries to answer of course I'm not; but it won't come out.
She rests her head on his hair. "Listen", she whispers, "Brock will find us, alright? He'll be here soon, I'm sure. And he'll, he'll have blankets, and he'll make something, maybe some hot tea to drink, would you like that? Or cold. Whatever makes you feel better".
Her words sound shaky—a little unsteady, a little like crying. She pulls him even closer: "So we'll be fine, okay? There's nothing to worry about".
He nods. She keeps talking; she tells him about blankets, about a fire, but she sounds so far away and he can't make out the words anymore. One of the pictures in his book was a Staryu, pointy and bright orange. He remembers it as he keeps listening to the sound of her voice, and the orange flashes bright, vivid and alive and warm.
There are arms holding him, fingers clasped tight on the fabric of his shirt. He's cold, and his head hurts still and his lips feel chapped and his throat feels swollen and raw; and he feels like he's floating, slipping a little, like he's sinking in thick fog. But there's someone else and there's warmth, too, and the arms are holding him tight, tight, tight.
His eyes are gummed shut. He cracks them open and blinks a few times: there's sun shining white on the snow, blinding him a bit.
"How—" he tries to ask, but his voice is hoarse and little more than a breath, and it hitches stuck in his throat. Misty jumps.
"You're awake". She loosens the hug and touches his forehead. "Can you hear me?"
Her voice shakes like maybe she's cried a little. He manages to croak a yeah, and she lets out a relieved breath.
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm okay", he groans. He looks around. "Where— where's Pikachu?"
"It stopped snowing, so I told him to go look for Brock. I'm sure they'll both be fine, don't worry. You got us a little scared, did you know that?"
"You didn't need to be", he protests. He hears her sigh. He tries to sit up, but his muscles feel tired and heavy and refuse to listen. Misty tightens a hand around his shoulder.
"Rest", she says. There's a sweetness in her voice he's heard only sometimes. "You were out for hours".
He can feel her nod. "And you talked in your sleep quite a lot".
He frowns. "What did I say?"
"Something about a book. And you called a lot for Pikachu. And for me."
"I was having nightmares. I think" He doesn't remember very well, but in some of them he woke up to find her lying still by his side, ice on her lips and her hair. "You're okay, right?"
"Yeah" She laughs a little, but it sounds a bit forced. "You were burning so much that it was like sitting right next to a heater".
"And your ankle?"
"Still hurts a bit", she admits. "But it'll be fine. Don't worry about it now, just rest a little longer".
He nods—he's still feeling sleepy and sore. Misty keeps her arm around his shoulders, and they wait.
Brock finds them not much later. He pulls blankets from his backpack, and something to keep his fever down, and bandages for Misty's ankle. He tells them he found another cave to spend the night into, and softly scolds them for not waiting where he told them to; and Misty crosses her arms and rants about him hiding how sick he was feeling, and that rare special sweetness he heard in her voice not longer than a hour ago is gone again. He pouts, insisting there was no need to say anything; but he thinks of her holding him tight, of the slight trembling in her words as she talked with her head laying on his.
And he couldn't tell why; but he lies wrapped tight in his blanket, head resting on his backpack, and when he looks at her again he catches the corners of his mouth curling in a smile.