Disclaimer: I regret to inform you that in no way, shape, or form do I own Pokemon or anything related. Sorry, but that's just something we'll all have to live with.
He liked it when she let her hair down. This happened so infrequently that it was always a treat for him when he caught her pulling out her hair tie and letting her soft red tresses fall down about her shoulders. He watched now, sitting beside her trying to look as if he wasn't watching, as she shook it free with a playful toss of her head. As she stretched the hair tie back around her fingers, he hoped she wouldn't put it back in so soon, hoped she wouldn't notice the silly little half smile he couldn't keep off his face as he watched her out of the corner of his eye.
She didn't put her hair back up, and she didn't notice the smile. She kept gazing over the rocks and shoreline to the ocean and the sunset beyond. He let his eyes drift down to her hands, to her slender fingers as they played with the hair tie, twisting and pulling it and letting it loose.
His gaze snapped back up to her face, framed in her shining red hair, a perfect match for the sunset, and to her sparkling blue eyes full of thought.
"Ash, I don't think you're a bad swimmer, really."
"Er… What?" He thought the unexpected statement required an intelligent answer, and that was the best he could come up with at the moment. "I'm not a bad swimmer," he managed after a minute.
She giggled slightly. "I just said that, didn't I? That's why it doesn't make sense."
Now she turned and looked at him. "Why do you do it?"
Ash shook his head, completely bewildered. Had he missed something important while he had been busy staring at her hair? "Misty, do what?"
She blinked at him. He blinked back. She had such pretty blue eyes…
Misty let out a rueful laugh. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Ash shook his head.
Misty looked down at her lap, where her fingers still twisted the hair tie back and forth nervously. She seemed to notice what she was doing and with an exasperated sort of grunt sat it down on the rock beside her and clasped her hands firmly in her lap. "It just seems like… It seems like…" she trailed off nervously.
"Like what?" he asked.
"Like every time we end up anywhere near a large body of water, you have to go and almost drown!"
Ash stared at her. She sounded very angry about this all of a sudden. He felt a brief flair of annoyance. "I don't drown every time we're near water! And besides-"
"Fine. Almost drown. But it really doesn't happen that often."
"Oh really?" Misty narrowed her eyes at him. "The first time I ever saw you, you were almost drowning. And what about that time you went surfing, or when we were helping that Nurse Joy in the Orange Islands? Sometimes you bring us with you, like on the St. Anne or in that whirlpool. And then there was the whole Chosen One thing. I'm always having to pull you out! And-"
"All right, all right!" Ash waved a hand defensively in front of his face. "But there are plenty of times I'm around water and don't even come close to almost drowning. Besides," he muttered sulkily, "it's not as if all of that was my fault. I can't help if I get knocked out first, or held under, or if I get pulled in, or a ship sinks. Why does it matter, anyway?"
"How can you say that?" she cried, and then she lowered her eyes to her fists, which were clenching and unclenching in her lap.
"Of course it matters," she said, her voice softer now. "I worry about you. You're good at getting your self out of the trouble you get into, usually. But if you were drowning… It doesn't matter if it's your fault or not. If you were drowning, and I wasn't there to pull you out-"
She shook her head. Ash tried to see her face, but her hair, so rarely down, now made a silky red curtain between him and her and hid her eyes.
Ash smiled slightly, not knowing if she would see it, but hoping she would here it in his voice. He would have liked to reach out and brush her hair aside with a gentle hand, but he didn't know if that was allowed. "Then you'll just have to make sure you're always there to pull me out."
Misty jerked suddenly at that. Her head shot up and her eyes locked on his. He met her gaze evenly, the little smile still on his lips. After a moment, both looked away, focusing again on the sunset and sea before them. Ash felt the heat in his face that accompanied a blush; hoped she didn't notice it. A little bit of him hoped she did.
Minutes passed and the sun dipped lower. Ash let his fingers brush along the smooth rock they sat on. It felt cool to the touch and it was all that there was between them. Maybe if the rock had been a little bit smaller that six-inch distance between them would disappear, and he would feel her shoulder against his, her hand under his instead of rock. Or maybe one of them would have just ended up sitting in the sand.
He continued to rub the stone absently, not with his whole hand; just with the tips of his fingers. And then a small smirk crossed his face as his fingers brushed something soft: Misty's hair tie. In one fluid movement he closed his hand over it and stuffed it in his pocket. A quick glance out the side of his eye showed Misty oblivious to his actions and still watching the sun caress the horizon.
When she finally spoke again it was in the same contemplative tone as before, though he could tell her mood was lighter by the teasing sparkle in her eye.
"So, how did you learn to swim? I learned from my sisters at our gym in Cerulean. One of the advantages to owning an Olympic-size swimming pool, I guess. But we didn't have this." She swung her arms out wide, encompassing the beach, the ocean, the sunset, and, Ash hoped, him.
He chuckled nervously, running a hand through his dark hair, causing it to become even more disheveled than it usually was. He had taken his hat off and sat it on the ground beside him some time ago. "My mom made me take lessons after I almost drowned in the Town Hall goldeen pond. The mayor's wife had to wade in and pull me out."
Misty blinked at him. "You almost drowned in a goldeen pond?"
Ash shrugged and stared at his knees. "I was only three…"
"Then what in the world were you doing alone at the town hall goldeen pond?"
Another nervous shrug. "I was trying to catch a sandslash."
"In a goldeen pond?"
"Ah, heh, long story."
They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Misty burst out laughing. "Oh, Ash!" she cried, when she finally caught her breath, as if his name alone explained everything. And maybe to her it did, he thought, giving her a rueful grin.
She shook her head, her eyes never leaving his face, and a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Come on," she said, her voice almost a whisper, let's get back to camp."
He glanced out over the ocean and noted with surprise that the sun had completely dipped below the waves, and all the brilliant pinks and reds and oranges had shaded to soft blues and violets and blacks.
He nodded. "Sure."
She to the side for her hair tie, but her hand touched nothing but bare stone. "Hey!"
Her eyes snapped to the rock and scoured its surface for the missing hair tie, and then she stood and began searching the ground nearby. "My hair tie is gone!"
Ash stood and retrieved his hat and shook the sand from it. "Maybe the wind blew it away or something." Never mind that there hadn't been all that much wind.
"Arg!" She gave the area one last look over, but in the growing dark there wasn't much to see. She sighed in exasperation. "I'll have to find an extra one when we get back."
He nodded, pleased with himself. He liked the way her hair looked around her face at night, too. As the turned and began walking back towards their camp, Ash moved to put his hat back on his head. A gentle hand on his arm stopped him.
"Just… don't. I… I like seeing your hair like that."
Ash grinned, lowered his hat, took her hand in his. After all, he thought, as they picked their way carefully through the dark towards their camp, nobody else would see the silly smile all over his face or the delicate blush across her cheeks. And even if they did, well, did it really matter all that much?
Notes: Yes, yes, I know I should be concentrating on Shadows of Time and not posting one-shots, but I couldn't help myself. I am working on SoT, I swear, I really am. And the wrong update is better than no update, right? Right? Anyhoo, please review, and I'll try to beat myself over the head until I get the next chapter of SoT out.