Disclaimer – I love to play with things that aren't mine! I'm a regular klepto!
Author – Chibi / Warlordess
Notes – So, uh, welcome to the completely shoddy, unplanned sequel to Popularity Period! I definitely didn't expect to make this (like I said, unplanned) but I received a really great PM from someone on FFN named Shadowz101, who pointed out (quite fairly) that, while I'm a good author, I only seem to write up to the point when major fluff would start before finishing. He's quite right about that, and I do have my reasons for it, but him pointing it out made me think that I should challenge myself to write past that limitation.
So here we go!
Dedication – To Shadowz101 for saying such sweet things and calling me out on my (obvious and pre-acknowledged) flaw.
Title – "Cerulean Scene"
Summary – He doesn't know how it's come to this but, apparently, Ash has inadvertently entered into a romantic relationship with his best friend and the two of them are currently on their first date. Who'd have thunk it? Direct sequel to Popularity Period.
Ash took in the strange atmosphere of his newest destination with wary eyes.
The dim lighting was making it almost too hard to see, and despite the plethora of other people there – most of which, he agitatedly admitted, were sitting in pairs just as he and Misty were – there was hardly any sound except for the soft piano and violin accompaniment playing from the speakers overhead.
At least Cerulean Scene hadn't sprung for a live concerto. Thank goodness for small mercies.
Still, with the roses perched directly in the center of the small, round table the two of them were sitting at and the soft glow of candles and the waiters charmingly pouring wine for their older patrons and offering delectable o'dourves for their younger, less experienced ones, he felt wildly out of place, especially with his vest and cap.
"Uh, w – what are we doing here again?" he asked stiffly, finally turning to gaze at his – oh, what was the word? – date for the evening.
"Ash, you're the one who brought me here!" Misty exclaimed haughtily in as low a voice as she could, though she still managed to sound quite formidable despite it.
"I – I did?" he practically gaped in response as if the memory had been blocked out. "I mean, yeah, sure; I was just. . ."
Sensing his anxiety, Misty sighed and sat back casually in her chair. Truthfully, she was feeling as uncomfortable as him. She just knew how to hide it better, apparently. She hadn't really thought about the dress code of such an establishment before the two of them had decided to head out. Thankfully, they hadn't been rejected by the hostess, though that may have been because she too could tell they were both nervous wrecks on their first amorous endeavor.
Nothing was worse than the silence though; the both of them just sitting there waiting for the other one to break the ice. Neither had any idea what to say, what to do, what had changed, or what would remain the same.
Ash, who'd tapered off mid-sentence last time, began to fumble with the hem of his own vest. He was staring at her now, watching her watch him, and then glancing around some more once every few seconds. There was something wrong with this whole scenario; he couldn't help thinking, something missing here. He was so swept up in his own dread that he almost didn't notice it at all.
For everything that he'd ever gone through – the many years traveling on the road, the misadventures with Team Rocket, the unique experiences with Pokemon like Lugia and Celebi and others, even the goodbyes he'd given to and received from old friends – nothing could have prepared him for this. Sitting there, petrified, waiting for the perfect words and actions to come to him and yet knowing that his instincts were not equipped to handle such response.
But more than anything else, he realized a few minutes into it that it was this behavior that Misty seemed to lack. While he'd been so preoccupied gazing around the building and trying to keep himself from hyperventilating, she'd been spending her time just staring at him.
"You," but he seemed to think better of his accusatory statement, backtracking and deciding to rephrase, "Did you know it was gonna be like this? Cerulean Scene, I mean."
He had hoped Misty would stare at him, affronted, maybe even prayed that she'd raise her voice a bit as she told him off for such assumptions. After all, he could handle that kind of reply, especially from her. Instead all he got was a faintly creased eyebrow, a bite of the lower lip, and an immediately averted gaze.
As irritated as he was at this definitive confession, he couldn't help also thinking to himself that she was pretty cute at the same time.
Misty had been the one to introduce the idea of coming to Cerulean Scene and, though Ash had decided out of his own (definitely not, never, ever, as if he would be) jealous whim to make the move towards a romantic notion, it had still been Misty who'd told him the name, claimed she'd never been there, but had obviously known of the date-oriented connotation of their environment, all at the drop of a hat.
He should have accepted her offer to switch to a fast food place when he had the chance.
"Sir, are you ready to order?" a middle-aged man in a tux asked after having approached their table. "Drinks, perhaps?"
Right. Food. That was a thing. They were supposed to be eating here, weren't they?
Silly Ash; he'd forgotten all about that. He hadn't even looked at his menu yet.
Thankfully, neither had Misty, so the redhead gave the waiter a smile and asked for a couple of glasses of water and some bread to start. The waiter smiled and turned on his heel to head towards the kitchen and fulfill her request.
Alas, this left the two of them alone once more.
"So, uh," and Ash felt the question needed to be asked no matter what the outcome, "w – why did you think to come to this place?"
"Well, it just – um – came to mind," the redhead said with a slightly furrowed brow as she tried to shake his curiosity off. "I did say we could go somewhere cheaper if you wanted to. Or do you not remember that either?" she bit at him, hoping he'd fall back and give in to her lack of answers.
But Ash saw something in her that he'd never noticed before now. A slight flush to her cheeks, her stiff composure, the way she looked at him – even now, when she should have been doing her best to avoid it.
If he'd been a year or two younger, he wouldn't have even noticed the symptoms. However, and not for the first time, he had also felt their wrath recently. And maybe not so recently as well, if only he hadn't pretended they didn't exist at the time.
He had just worked up the nerve to ask his next question when their waiter returned with their ice water. Ash cleared his throat of the mild burning that had begun to set in there and decided it was best to do something proactively, picking up his menu and browsing the titles and brief summaries. Once he'd chosen something that he was certain wouldn't end up being Delcatty Tongue or Grumpig Feet, the waiter accepted the menu back, followed by Misty's, and left the two fumbling teenagers to their hormones.
The raven-haired trainer wished more than anything that he could find some light conversation to divert attention from their stuffy environment but nothing seemed to come on its own. The redhead sitting across from him seemed to still be waiting for his final verdict on their situation, possibly thinking that his foot-in-mouth decision making had caused him to think without acting earlier. Maybe he regretted it. How was she to know that he was feeling anything at all similar to what she'd been enduring for the past three or so years when he had never once clearly voiced it?
But then Ash creased his brow in thought. He wasn't the only one to have never said anything, right? All of the people they'd met who'd claimed they saw something between the two traveling pre-teens had never had enough evidence to support their theories and he had brushed them all off at a glance because, even three years into her companionship, he'd never once thought to himself that Misty was a girl.
Well, except for at the Maiden's Peak festival.
And the Princess tournament.
And there was the time she was in that Goldeen showgirl outfit, and those bathing suits she'd worn, and the mermaid costume, and the times when she'd shown interest in someone of the opposite gender and when she reacted so sappily to romantic things and. . . Why had it taken him so long to notice that she was different than everyone else anyway?
Shaking his head so rapidly he almost bit his tongue, Ash coughed and cleared his throat, gulping down some of his water and haphazardly smashing the glass on the table once more when he was finished.
"So how long has it been like this?" he finally had the nerve to ask her.
Misty blinked, relatively bemused by the strange and sudden inquiry. Ash was more courageous than she gave him credit for if he could withstand their surroundings and still find something to occupy his current state of mind. Nevertheless, that didn't clear up the ambiguous question he'd posed for her.
"Uh, what do you mean?"
He tapped his fingers against the tabletop in a row, as if playing across the length of a keyboard, then back again, then stopped and looked her in the eyes.
"Us. Or else. . . Or maybe mostly you."
Oh. It was that question he wanted an answer for? The redhead did her best to smother the hitch in her own breath and the burning in her eyes. When she'd come back home and thought to herself that she finally knew her place in Ash Ketchum's life, she hadn't considered that one day down the line the two of them would be sitting in the only moderately classy restaurant Cerulean City had to offer with him begging her to admit how long she'd been waiting for him to come around.
She stared imploringly through him, her insides a wreck at her next confession even as she forced a nonchalant seeming shrug.
"A couple of years now, I guess."
"Y – you never said anything."
His guilt was so apparent that she thought she could almost breathe it in. She did her best to put on a smile, though it came out a melancholy grimace.
"I didn't think it'd matter much to you."
There it was, the words he'd dreaded most, and only because she was right. He could have gone on forever not knowing that she was important, special, potentially his if only he'd worked up the nerve to approach her about it and ask. She spent years denying any inclinations and accusations because she knew that he wasn't mature enough to handle it, though he supposed that she was nearly just as cowardly as she was considerate.
What kind of martyr did that make her?
He licked his lips as if to take up some more time and then went on to say, "W – well, what if I say it does?" He looked her over, blankly wistful stare and all, and clarified, "It matters. It does. I kept you waiting all this time. Sorry about that, Myst."
Both of his fists were balled up and perched on the table in front of him and the redheaded gym leader felt a wave of sympathy wash over her. She'd never once meant to make him feel so shameful over this whole thing. She was actually entirely too grateful that everything had finally come to light, a little giddy underneath her jumbled strain. At least now that it was out she wouldn't have to worry and wonder and psych herself up just to be let down anymore, right?
At least, she hoped not.
The waiter returned with their chosen dishes of nourishment, unfortunately ruining the moment – (not that he'd intended to) – and causing Misty to withdraw the hand she'd boldly stretched across the two or so feet between them to linger over Ash's own as if to comfort him.
The coiling in both of their guts had been trying to pry them away from each other anyway, despite how somehow natural the response had been for her to make. It was a constant, she supposed, and it was theirs even now. Holding onto Ash, for whatever reason, had been second nature since she was ten years old. Even when taller, physically more imposing people were around, she'd somehow found herself depending on him, and vice versa.
Their current crisis (for lack of a better word) was hardly anything compared to whatever other situations had led to this particular development previously and yet it was so amazingly instinctual for them.
The rest of their meal was eaten in silence for the most part. It felt like a hurdle – or better yet, a wall – had been blown clean away, leaving them with the opportunity to push themselves even further. There were a few softball questions and jokes between them, anything to lighten the mood since they'd sat so long steeped in teenage dread, but not much else.
Ash paid for dinner, as promised, and the two of them left the restaurant. He decided on the way back to the Cerulean Gym that it would be a great – (terrible, awful, misguided) – idea to try and instigate holding hands with Misty this time, which had been made even stranger by the fact that she ended up being the one to lead him back the rest of the way there.
Well, she obviously knew the terrain better, he figured.
Ash hadn't expected the kiss that she gave him at the end. He'd been kissed a couple of times before, always by a girl who'd just met him and always on the cheek rather than anything intimate. But this one had been different.
They'd been approaching the gym (still holding hands and, jeezus, how did Misty even handle such things when his nerves were tingling, itching, fighting to end it because the context was so strange and he didn't know what to do). And then, when they were only about twenty feet from the gym's maintenance door, she'd yanked him forward and mashed her lips against his.
Don't try to tell Ash that Misty wasn't the bravest girl he'd ever known.
Admittedly it was not the most seductive, sultry performance she'd ever given. She was pretty sure her half-an-hour hypnotized as a Seel a few years ago had been a much more flattering presentation. Nevertheless, she refused to give in to the jittering panic welling up within her, at least not until. . .
And there it was. Ash leaned in and proceeded to kiss her back, a little clumsy – (well, it was his first) – but it was endearing, honest, wanting.
It was the greatest high he'd ever experienced, rivaled only by the feeling of accomplishment that came from breaching that obstacle blocking him from his dream of becoming Pokemon Master.
It was phenomenal, everything shiny and bright, though through Ash's tunnel vision, he couldn't see anything outside of her. Them. Their moment. It had been such a long time coming, it was peaceably flawless. . . Up until Misty began to pull away.
Then it was simply over.
"Ash," she murmured, flushed and glowing in a way he'd never thought was possible before, "what happens to us now?"
"Now?" he whispered back softly. He decided he liked now very, very much. There'd hardly been a better now in all of his life.
"Well, you're leaving tomorrow," Misty reminded him gloomily, dejectedly, plainly.
Reality was a cold, hard mistress, he thought, taking in the sight of the pretty redhead – (he supposed he should get used to thinking of her that way, especially after tonight) – standing there waiting for them to note their few available options before making the one choice they had no practical alternatives to.
She couldn't leave the gym, especially with none of her sisters home to take over in her place. And he wouldn't dare take away from her the respect, the reputation, the happiness, she had garnered since coming back to Cerulean City a couple of years ago, even if she'd be just as happy with him.
Happiness. It seemed rather fleeting now that reality had smacked him squarely upside the head, once more forbidding him from abandoning his original intentions, his dream.
And Misty, dear girl, was only asking the question because she knew she could never faultlessly be the cause of such decisions.
Ash never thought the words would hurt him quite so much to say.
"I'm going to Unova," he chose to persevere through his sudden case of parched throat, "and you're staying here."
"Yeah," she agreed solemnly.
Something crumbled a little bit inside both of them. These were the paths they'd chosen, the goals they'd agreed to pursue, after all.
He was decidedly against the expression Misty was currently sporting; resigned, yet fearful, with a touch of shame. It wasn't supposed to hurt like this, he knew. He had to make it better, make her better.
"Uh, y – you. . . I. . . It's, and by 'it's' I mean this, isn't just for tonight. I promise. I'll call you all the time, and write, and I'll never. . . I mean, I never stopped thinking about you when I was in Hoenn, or Sinnoh, or even when I was home. I won't stop thinking about you. So I promise you that we can last through this.
"I keep my promises, Myst. You know that. So I'm asking you to have faith. . . And to wait for me."
She could feel the doubt within her begin nibbling away. Ash liked his words – (he always had before) – and it wouldn't be the first time he'd told her he valued her – "We were meant to meet and become best friends," and, "We'll meet again," were the first things to come to mind– only to leave her hoping for something more.
It wasn't fair, she told herself, reliving one of her lowest emotional points, trying to place blame. Ash had never once told her to leave before, though he'd also never told her to wait.
But this time. . .
He was still staring at her, standing by for her approval, her acceptance, her answer. She could see his gaze wavering and fists clenching and jaw tightening in resolution.
He really wanted this.
"Ash, if you're expecting me to just sit back here and wait for you to come for me then you've got another thing coming!" she exclaimed, prodding him in the chest with nearly every syllable she spoke. "I refuse to play some helpless maiden holding out for her long-gone love! I'll be here in Cerulean City, alright, but it's not gonna be for you!"
The raven-haired trainer had no idea where she was going with this, but he feared it was nowhere good.
"I'm here for me," she finally confessed with her nose turned up at him, "and don't you dare think any differently.
"I've learned a lot since taking over the gym, and I've grown a lot too. I'm a great trainer now, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished over the past couple of years!"
"M - me too," he tried to say but she ignored his interruption.
"I've made peace with the excuses behind why I came home and just accepted it for what it was; a chance to better myself.
"So what I'm saying is that you better not think for even ONE second that I'll be sitting here, endlessly hoping for you to come sweep me off my feet and away to some faraway fairy tale happy ever after. I'll keep being the gym leader, I'll get even stronger, I'll learn everything I can so that – next time you come to see me – you won't even begin to know what you've missed out on!"
Her confidence, dignity, was so becoming of her that he almost couldn't stop himself from kissing her again. That was one of the reasons she was so attractive to him, after all.
And now he knew what she'd been getting at when she'd first started berating him for his poor choice of words.
"Heh," he said with a quick brush of his nose, "Well then, you better make me proud, Myst!"
"You bet I will!" But she wasn't done yet. "And you better call me, at least twice a week! I want updates!"
"Of course! No problem!" he agreed, holding up a pumped fist.
Misty smiled amiably at him, her friend – no, her boyfriend – after noting his reaction.
Like she'd thought before, he really wanted this. He wanted her.
So she would have faith in him after all, because Ash Ketchum kept his promises, and he always had a way of getting what he wanted.
What kind of girlfriend would she be if she denied him that?
Notes – So, uh, thanks for reading! As mentioned above, this was completely unplanned from the start. I only wrote this to test myself and to (hopefully) appease the desires of Shadowz101 after he sent me such a pleasant and inspiring message on FFN. I appreciate him giving me this opportunity and I hope that this is at least partially acceptable in terms of what he pointed out may be my greatest weakness as a sappy romance-genre writer. Lol.
Hm, there may be a potential flaw in this since I didn't reference the fanboys that were harassing Misty in Popularity Period. I feel bad, but this fic was supposed to be exclusively about she and Ash proceeding on their date so. . . Let's pretend that everything is fine!
Whew, I haven't been this productive with my writing in awhile! (Don't worry, it won't last much – or any – longer than this.)
Please remember, reviews are love!