"As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen."
Ash Ketchum was many things.
Single-minded. Determined. Focused on only one goal. But above all else, he was a dreamer.
For as long as he could remember, Ash had only ever had one solitary dream. A path that he'd carved out in his mind with a metaphorical shovel before he'd even taken his first step. The dream that passed into the waking world and filled with head with the sound of applause that never ever stopped. To be a Pokémon Master.
So when days before his tenth birthday and his countdown clock to ultimate freedom slowly ticking away, when he noticed the bright blue and yellow symbol stitched into the back of his right hand, he barely gave it a second thought.
He had no idea.
He stared at the mark uninterested for what felt like hours as Delia Ketchum went on in endless, detailed, excited explanation about what the symbol was for. He barely listened as she droned on about it, and how it symbolized that someday- maybe tomorrow, maybe ten years from now, no one really knew- he would meet a person who had the exact same mark. And that person was who he was meant to be with.
His 'soulmate', as she called it, who would have the same, 'soulmark' as him in the exact same spot.
Ash Ketchum was many things. Ash Ketchum wanted to be many things. Ash Ketchum wanted only a few things. To begin his journey, to catch Pokémon, and to become a master trainer someday.
But to be a soulmate; to be someone else's soulmate- someone who he had never even met!- was not one of those things.
He didn't understand it. He didn't particularly care about it moreover.
So he didn't try to.
The night before his departure unto his fated journey when the sky was painted black, the raw excitement he knew should be there, just beneath his skin, crawling up and down his spine like scuttling bug types in pure anticipation, was absent, replaced with an irritating itch he couldn't reach originating from the mark beside his fingers.
He took one look at the back of his hand, at the twisting mark of a golden lightning bolt fading into an azure blue teardrop that was quelling his exhilaration like rain to a forest fire. He looked at it, then yanked his fingerless gloves over-top of it.
Ash Ketchum was determined. His destiny was his to decide, not some fictional stranger's without a face or name to match. He'd waited too long to let something-or someone stop him now. In the morning, Ash would still be many things, but he decided he would no longer be defined by what others thought he was… or was going to be.
He ignored the stinging of his flesh behind the material above his wrist. He held on.
Misty Waterflower was many things.
Usually angry. Always angry when it came to her sisters. She hadn't had the luxury of being born into a family that was anything less than frustrating.
Anger, stubbornness, and pride. Those were her weapons against the world. The very ones that had forced her to leave the only place she'd ever called home.
In her world, it was the only decision left that no one could take away from her.
She thought back numbly to the day she'd woken up with the crooked dewdrop shape on the back of her hand. The taunting's from her older siblings. Her hands gripped the fishing pole painfully and she glared angrily out at the water, her mark throbbing like a bruise. She could still hear their laughter biting at her brain like Gyarados fangs.
May the legends have mercy on THAT poor soulmate, they'd said.
Misty didn't want to think about it. Not her sisters, not her 'soulmate', and not the fact that she was stuck out in the wilderness all on her own until she became a good enough trainer to return home with her head held high. Her dignity was on the line, as a trainer and a fellow Sensational Sister. And she would protect that right on her own, without anyone's help, and without any 'soulmate' to slow her down or get in her way.
That's what she'd been thinking when she'd fished that poor kid out of the river.
And he really had picked the wrong fishing line to get caught on because Misty had definitely needed an outlet for all that anger after days of stewing all alone. She slapped him. She lectured him. She yelled at him more than anything. And she had felt good to be the one looking down on someone else for once.
What she hadn't expected was the boy to be a thief as well as an irresponsible brat.
Anger, stubbornness and pride had gotten her into this mess, robbed by a ten year old and left chasing him through a storm and a city to get the justice she deserved. It was those same feelings that had pushed her past the point of exhaustion in order to track him down and demand he replace what he'd stolen and ruined.
Even when he seemed legitimately concerned when she fell over with the weight of her charred bike on her shoulders. Even when she glared up at him and defensively slapped his helping hand away, without even looking offended by her anger clearly directed at him. Even with all the rage she clung to and threw at him like sharpened knives, she still saw nothing but worry and guilt in his chocolate-hued gaze. Those emotions, directed at her despite how she was acting, confused her worse than anything ever had.
At least until the boy caught sight of her right hand, the very one she'd used to slap him twice with. And then all she saw from him was shock. That only bewildered her more.
Team Rocket came crashing in after that and they'd needed to deal with that problem before anything else about her broken bike could be discussed. And wow, Ash (whom she learned the name of from the nurse) might have been an amateur trainer in every sense of the word, but his Pikachu had nothing but potential. If not for him and the other Pikachu at the center, she wasn't sure what would have happened. She was actually a little bit impressed.
And okay, the Pokémon center may have been destroyed, but at least no Pokémon were stolen by those no-good crooks!
In the rubble where the Pokémon Center used to stand in the wake of the criminal's departure, she caught Ash staring at her hand again. His avid fascination set her off once more, not a challenging feat given how much he'd already screwed up her life within less than 24 hours of formally knowing him. She held up her closed fist intimidatingly, white knuckles and soulmark staring him point blank in his face like she was threatening him with bodily harm.
"What, you never seen a soulmark before?"
He was paralyzed by the end of her sentence. But the poor boy didn't say anything coherent in reply (not for a lack of trying). After moments of wordless sputtering, his childish impatience reared its ugly head again and he clumsily pulled one of his bright green gloves free from his skin, holding up his own hand in response.
A strange, beautiful, terrifying symbol that matched her own stared into her. The gesture left the hot-headed red-head more speechless than anything comprehensible he could have said out loud.
They stood there in the smoking wreckage for a long time.
They wondered what would happen next. Without even knowing each other, they somehow knew that both of them had ambitions. Plans to achieve of their own merit, not needing nor wanting to rely on anyone else. Their paths had crossed by accident, or at least that's how it had seemed. But what could they do now? What happened to all your plans when your fate was literally staring you right in the face?
She had no idea. But it seemed to Misty like there was only one option left to them. She swallowed hard and hoisted her bag further up onto her shoulder.
"Ok then, let's go," she declared. Her heal spun a circle in the dust as she turned and walked away from him stiffly. She knew he wouldn't follow, but she continued nonetheless.
"W-What?" Ash called out to her, as if she'd spoken to him in another language and he was lost in translation.
Misty paused and looked over her shoulder. "You do know how this works, right? Soulmates stick together once they find each other. It's like, a rule. And besides," she held up her right fist again. "Even if I didn't have this mark, you STILL owe me a new bike! But I guess you've got something of an extension now to make it up to me."
Ash stared dumbfounded back at her, like he was trying to piece together her words from cutouts in a magazine. "So…you wanna come with me?"
"Not particularly," she answered honestly. "But I guess I don't have much of a choice now, do I? I lost a bike and gained a soulmate."
"But Misty," Ash looked troubled. Misty admitted to herself that he looked kinda cute when he was apologetic. "If that's not what you want…you should get to choose."
For the first time since she met the thoughtless boy, Misty genuinely smiled. Though his naiveté only made her feel worse inside.
"Alright, tell you what," she twisted back towards him fully. "I'll hang around until you replace my bike. Then after that, I'll choose if I wanna stick with you any longer or not."
"But I can't-!" he started.
"Not up for debate, kid," Misty cut him off. "Now come on, already! I thought you wanted to catch Pokémon and fight gym battles and all that! Hurry up, or I'll start charging interest on your debt."
She smirked at the sound of his defeated sigh, the small victory lightening her otherwise defeated mood. But she argued that the sooner he accepted that he was stuck with her; the sooner they both accepted it, the sooner they could move on. They didn't have an alternative anymore.
Misty had always wanted certain things in her life. The respect of her sisters, to see all the different types of Water Pokémon in the world, to become strong, but never anything like this. She'd never asked for someone to be with her, to hold or hand or fight her battles for her, and she wasn't planning to start now. Ash Ketchum was certainly a handful, but…
For the first time since she'd left home, and with the weight of the inescapable situation finally settling down on her, Misty found herself actually looking forward to what future lay ahead of her. Simply because, it would be something new. Something unexpected and different, and maybe better than all of her plans that had just gone up in smoke.
She had no idea, but she could hope anyways.
The tingling on the back of her hand subsided. She held on.
Ash and Misty were many things. But they were more together then they could ever be apart.
Three regions and more stories than they could count were all the proof of that they needed. Kanto had started out a little rocky. They argued every day, tensions ran high, and everyone they came across just assumed it was because they were 'soulmates'.
Were soulmates really supposed to fight this much?
It got better after Brock joined then. He was a good mediator, and being a few years older attributed him with a sort of wisdom about these types of disputes. Despite his excitement about the idea of finding his own one true love, and his habit of asking every beautiful girl he came into contact with for the chance to see her soulmark. A habit which Misty took upon herself to temper out of pity for the poor, embarrassed women he constantly harassed with his compliments.
Time went on and instead of the uncomfortable clashing that had started out between the two trainers, something of a pattern began to form. Ash would battle, train, catch Pokémon and such to get ever closer to his goal of master rank, and Misty would never be far behind. He fought against the advice she offered more often than not, and the scolding's she gave when he did something stupid always had him rolling his eyes… but something in him caught fire whenever he heard her cheering. To hear the girl who was always on his case, supporting him instead made him feel as if he'd already won whatever battle he was fighting.
And when she wasn't there, the victory felt just as hollow.
On the contrary, Misty had no tournament to prove her strength like Ash did, she simply had to work hard. Dedicated to the typing of her gym, she took every opportunity to hone her skills as a water type trainer and Ash, while always quick to mock her should she instigate it, never squandered her abilities or looked down on her mistakes.
There came to be a respect between them. They may not have been together in the sense of traditional soulmates, but they grew closer to real friendship the more time passed. They both became grateful for it when compared to the awkward start they'd had, initially held together with deformed scraps of metal and smoldering concrete.
The Orange Islands was where they'd both hit their strides. Misty managed to beat Ash in a water Pokémon tournament, and Ash won his very first league. They grew stronger together, and were growing closer to each other. Relying on each other and depending on one another more instead of stubbornly going about their struggles alone and pushing the other away.
They had a lot in common. They had from the very start if they were ever honest. Stubborn, prideful, arrogant at times. For as much as they fought, people still always told them how close they seemed. How similar they had become.
Was that what a soulmate was? Someone equal to who you were on a fundamental level?
By the time they were making their way through Johto, they already had plenty of experience traveling with each other. So much that they now had knowledge of one another that they weren't even really conscious of.
Misty could recognize when Ash was depressed, usually when confronted with a fight he couldn't win or a problem he had no experience with. And Misty, knowing every single sentence that was sure to get a response out of him, knew exactly what to say to get him back on his feet. Be it by encouraging him when he doubted himself or angering him enough to want to prove her wrong.
And Ash, eventually, had learned to listen. He still had his issues being over-zealous and biting off more than he could chew, but even he had to admit that Misty was smart when it came to battle strategy. She had to be when specializing with only one type of Pokémon. It took him a while to realize that whenever she tried talking to him about battling it wasn't because she didn't believe in him, it was because she did. It was because she wanted to help and that she cared enough to try, even when he constantly shut her out despite her efforts to connect with him.
They were alike. But they also had things that the other one lacked. While Ash noticed how insecure Misty could be at times, drilled into her head by her self-superior sisters, Ash had confidence to spare and never hesitated to share it with her. And while Misty could witness Ash rush into danger without a plan time and again, she was always right there with him for support when he was backed against a wall.
They still fought tooth and nail against anyone who insinuated romantic intention between them. They still fought with each other even more frequently. But it was never vicious, never genuine, and it rarely went too far.
And if it did, all one of them needed to do was offer the fist with their shared imprint to the other.
And the other would smile, the unspoken apology accepted just as silently as they bumped their knuckles and matching mark against the former's.
By the end of their Johto journey, through every legendary Pokémon they'd met and every battle they'd faced together, when Ash had successfully beaten his life-long rival with Misty cheering him on louder than anyone in the fully packed stadium, they were nothing like the two tenacious kids who'd met they're soulmates way to early and fought against it every step of the way.
They were best friends. Maybe that's what a soulmate was supposed to be. And they'd gotten there in their own time, in their own ridiculous way.
Then Misty got a phone call. And the world came crashing down with it.
Ash tried to be optimistic, just like Misty always tried to be whenever he was upset. But the red-head wasn't having it. She clutched the hand with her soulmark to her chest with her baby Togepi, (the one that should have belonged to Ash but had imprinted on Misty and in the end he hadn't had the heart to take it away from her because his soulmate loved it so very much) and she'd run away from him. And he'd wanted so badly to chase after her, but the weight of the situation kept his feet tightly bound to the tile floor, the very same floor in the rebuilt Pokémon center that they'd first been in when they realized they were destined to be together.
Misty was going home. The girl who'd literally been by his side since the first day he'd started his adventure wouldn't be with him for whatever came next. He couldn't even fathom it. How did one imagine a life without the person who was always meant to be in it? He could feel the mark on his right hand burning, the beautiful twisting lines like barbed wire wrapped around his hand as his fist clenched tighter.
Misty wasn't any better off. She could feel the tears pricking the back of her eyes, begging for release that she refused to give. She couldn't understand how her sisters could do this. Rip her away from the boy who was literally her destiny because their lives were more important than hers. And Ash had celebrated it, smiled at her like it was a good thing. That had hurt worse than all of the hurtful words her sisters had ever said to her, combined.
Misty was many things, but she wasn't stupid. She had always known it was inevitable. As the mark on the back of her hand connected them, she knew she'd fall in love with Ash Ketchum someday. She just hadn't imagined ever having to be apart from him when it happened. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Soulmates were supposed to stick together.
They found each other again when the red-headed trainer was battling against some bullies who'd gotten on her nerves. Ash believed in her to finish the battle on her own instead of jumping in to defend her. This time, he's been the one to cheer her on, and Misty had loved that. Once the battle was over, their grins of celebration fell to harsh lines of grim understanding.
She was supposed to hurry home. They both knew what came next. But neither one wanted it to end just yet.
Brock stalled for them, saying he had to make a phone call home since they were leaving the city soon. The two trainers stood together outside the Viridian Pokémon Center, lost in the same memories but feeling the divide between them growing evermore.
"It's ironic," Misty said out loud. "When we were here the first time, I said as soon as I got my bike back that I would choose whether I wanted to stay with you or not."
Her soulmark felt red-hot under her skin. She gripped the handle bars of her re-constructed bicycle tighter to distract herself, the one that Nurse Joy had put back together from scratch just because she'd helped against Team Rocket all that time ago. "And now, I've got my bike back, and I don't get to choose."
"You should," Ash spoke up. "You should always get a choice. This isn't fair…"
"I kinda thought you wanted me to go," Misty admitted. He looked at her with eyes that were sad enough to make her hate herself for ever thinking that.
"You know, I always hoped you'd forget about that bike," Ash admitted, ignoring her remark altogether. "Then I'd never have to replace it, and you wouldn't have had to choose."
Misty leaned her head back against the stone wall at her back. Her eyes closed and shut off the world. "I would have liked that."
When Brock was done, they walked for a while. Misty fell back into lecture mode, listing off things that Ash should remember when taking care of himself on his own from now on. Things she wouldn't be able to remind him of anymore. The reassurance that they were meant to meet soothed her cracking heart, but it couldn't stop the inevitable from making it scream out in agony, thrashing against its cage that was her ribs like a rabid Pokémon held captive.
"Will I…see you again?"
"You will…Soulmates stick together, remember?"
And then they were there, at the fork in the road at sunset, saying their goodbyes and it felt like someone was picking out the stitches holding them together the longer they stood. But there was nothing more to do. Brock prepared one last lunch, Misty had wrapped it in a handkerchief, and Ash was grappling with the last of his restraint to keep from completely falling apart.
The sound of quiet footsteps fading away was the last he heard of Brock. But the clicking of bicycle gears did not follow.
Ash braved a look up from under the brim of his hat at the auburn haired girl mounted on the orange bike, frozen in front of the setting sun and the matching flame-colored flowers and rolling hills that would soon lead her away from him.
That was all it took. She swung herself off the metal contraption and sprinted back in his direction. They came together like two pieces of broken glass, never whole but fitting together as if once more complete.
They had never loved each other like everyone thought soulmates should. But they had never cared what the world thought of them. They had they're friendship and trust and they knew each other like no one else ever had or ever would. They knew their minds like they knew every inch of their soulmarks, they knew their emotions like they knew every line of every argument they'd ever had and would keep on having again and again, and they knew each other's souls like they knew every freckle on her alabaster skin and every stray hair underneath his favorite red hat.
They thought they'd had time. They'd had no idea there was a limit.
Their souls had been friends long before they'd met. So when she scrapped up every last bit of bravery she had- because who the hell knew when she'd ever get the chance again?- and brought her shaking lips to his, she and he, her and him, everything they were when they were apart disappeared and they just became They. Them. We. Us. Together, and it was like they'd kissed a thousand times before instead of only once.
They came apart like glass shattering, with twilight coloring the sky above and nothing that could be said with words that they didn't already know. When Ash met Misty, he'd known somewhere amidst the bickering and groaning that his adventure was going to change, just as she'd known it too.
And it had. It had been a great adventure. The absolute best.
"Promise me," she asked him, the ocean in her eyes streaming rivers down her face because while he knew she hated when people saw her cry, she couldn't muster up the strength to care. Not when she'd finally gathered the courage to go after what she wanted just to lose it twice as quickly. "That this isn't forever. No matter how far away you go, or who you meet or how much time goes by… Promise you'll come back to me."
Ash Ketchum was many things. He'd only ever wanted to become a Pokémon Master. But now he had something more precious than he ever thought he needed, and he'd become something more important than he ever thought he could be. But at the moment, the only thing he wanted was something he couldn't have.
But just because he couldn't promise her forever in that moment, didn't mean he never could.
They together were many things. And neither of them were people who gave up.
He took her right hand in his, intertwining their fingers like the interwoven yellow lightning bolt and blue teardrop on their skins, and held on in between them. He swore he could feel the two marks pulsing in rhythm, warm heartbeats that drummed together, and hoped he would always be able to even after he let go. He smiled at her, sad and faithful, but still smiling for her.
A/N: So, yeah. Happy Valentine's Day! I'll just…go work on Heroes Grace now…I promise. Thanks for reading!