A/N: So here it is, finally, finally, finally: the last chapter of Five Days of Midnight.
My apologies for the very long delay. Yes, I know that I lied about how long it would take. In addition to being very busy, to be honest, I sort of lost interest in the fandom. Therefore, it was very hard to sit down and write for extended periods of time. And then as more time passed, it was harder to write because it HAD been such a long time—I had to go back and read some other chapters to remember how I wanted to tie up some of the ends. I'm sure my interest will return at some point—it tends to ebb and flow—but it did make completing this fic very difficult. Nevertheless, I knew I'd finish it at some point, as promised. I hope you enjoy! (If it helps make up for it, it's a long one!)
DISCLAIMER: Pokemon and its characters and concepts do not belong to me. No profit is being made from this work.
Five Days of Midnight
It was almost as though nothing had ever happened.
In fact, if Pikachu had been there, and if they hadn't been shivering from the cold water and from nerves, Ash could have almost sworn that it had never been. After all, how often had he sailed across the sea with Tracy and Misty at his side, his eye on the horizon and on adventure? And now here they were, back to what they knew.
And yet, he realized, stealing a glance at Misty as she, too, gazed off into the horizon, it had happened and everything was a bit different now.
The boat roared back towards the shoreline, bobbing over the crests of the waves that had once seemed so dark and foreboding, and now seemed to be so blue and harmless, especially compared to the sleek power of the small ship. And that ship seemed especially powerful, Ash thought, compared to the power of two teenagers lost at sea.
His crime had been seemingly put aside for a moment, and Officer Jenny had fetched them each a fleece blanket to wrap around their shivering bodies. Ash and Misty sat there, huddled together like beggars, water still dripping from their hair and clothes and pooling on the deck as they headed back towards the small island.
Every so often, Ash would again glance over at Misty, as though checking to make sure she was still there, still breathing, still living. And she was, though her eyes were still clouded with confusion as she tried to process how she had gotten from the inside of an ice cavern to the sturdy deck of the boat heading for shore.
Hesitantly, he reached a hand out to rest on her shoulder and felt her jump a bit under his touch. "Hey," he said softly, "are you okay?"
Her eyes were shadowed with fatigue when she looked over at him, exhaustion starting to creep up on her just as the sun rose again. The night was over, but Ash and Misty had found no rest. She gave him a weary sort of half-smile, cautious in her own optimism. "Do you think it's over?" she said, her voice low as though she were confiding a secret in him.
The corners of his own mouth quirked up, and he squeezed her shoulder lightly, familiarly. "I hope so," he answered honestly, and he looked up at the horizon at the island they had worked so furiously to escape, the one that they were now willingly approaching without really knowing what they would face when they landed on the shores once more. Blind faith, he realized—much the same as the kind he had held when he had first convinced Gary that he needed a boat because he needed to save his friends.
In the daylight, the tower of ice was no longer foreboding but a strange sight of beauty, the sun reflecting off the smooth surface and the sculpture twinkling a welcome to them. Ash could hear Office Jenny snatch a breath at the sight, and he wondered, with a hint of smugness, how much of Gary's story Officer Jenny had written off as the exaggeration of two teenagers in trouble. But any smugness he felt faded rapidly as he remembered his own insistence that he didn't want to hear, didn't want to know, didn't want to be involved, when Misty had tried to tell him the story that Samuel had given her.
Maybe if I had listened, things would have been different…
Maybe they would have been able to stop Lucinda the first night of midnight, when she had appeared as such a small, innocent child. Maybe Misty and Brock would have never been taken, and maybe then, Koga would still be alive and Misty wouldn't be trembling in the cold sea air next to him.
He licked his dry lips nervously, aware that Misty could hold this over his head for years to come. "Misty…I'm sorry I didn't listen to you before," he said with slight reluctance in his voice—Ash had never been good with apologies. She had smugly reminded him of what she had known, what she had been trying to tell him, back when he had first pulled her from the icy waters…when he had made the choice to save her first, when he had been forced to leave the rest behind. But he, ever stubborn, had refused to offer an apology or even an acknowledgement, but now…now felt like the time to do so.
She looked up, her blue-green eyes so different from Lucinda's dark, cold eyes, and then she gave him a crack of a smile, as though she knew and appreciated the effort it took for him to admit that he had made a mistake and that she had been right. "Well, I'm sorry I ruined your jacket," she said lightly, holding up her arms so that water could drip freely from the sleeves of his familiar jacket.
Relieved that she didn't seem to be angry with him—a fight with Misty was just about the last thing in the world he wanted at the moment—he laughed, and reached for her shoulders to help her remove the jacket. It was heavy with salt and sea, but he had a hunch that it wasn't beyond repair—he had seen his mother work more than one miracle when it came to his clothing. "Well, when I lent it to you I didn't know you would be going for a swim," he said lightly. He spoke lightly to distract himself from the feel of her cool, smooth skin under his hands, almost a foreign substance to him, as though he had never touched Misty before and didn't know what to expect. And well, maybe after this, he didn't know what to expect anymore.
"You saved my life," she said quietly, and she seemed to not be able to quite meet his eye. "Twice," she added, recalling how he had pulled her onto Charizard's back from the raging storm, flying in on fiery wings like the hero he always ended up playing despite his trepidation.
Funny how she had thought, in that time that seemed so long ago, that Ash wasn't the traditional hero and she wasn't the traditional damsel, and yet here they were.
He studied her for a long moment, a myriad of replies on his tongue and yet none of them seemed quite right. You would have done the same or you did do the same for me made it seem like repayment, What else could I have done sounded like he was resigned…and I would do it again was too close to the truth to pass comfortably between them.
So he grinned. "Tell me I'm the greatest Pokemon trainer who ever lived," he goaded, wondering how the words would sound on her lips.
She quirked an eyebrow. "You must think I swallowed a whole lot of seawater if you think I'm going to say that, Ketchum," she shot back, elbowing him in the side through the thick material of the blankets that separated them. Then her eyes widened as a thought struck her. "Ash, the Pokemon! My Pokemon! And…and Brock's, and my sisters', and the rest…" her brow creased with worry. "What's going to happen to them?" Her eyes left his face, and gazed towards the island they were quickly approaching.
He studied the worn knees of his old blue jeans for a long moment, again turning over possible responses in his head. It seemed, at this vital times in his life, that he always either opened his mouth and from somewhere deep within drew words of inspiration and eloquence, or, much more frequently, he opened his mouth and promptly stuck his foot in it. "Let's hope that the sun isn't the only thing that's back," he finally answered, a gloved hand coming up to pick at the fray on his jeans. There would be a hole there, soon—something else for his mother to fix.
The boat gave a lurch as it ran ground on the island, and Ash felt his own legs ache in protest as he watched the crewmen jump nimbly to the ground to pull and anchor the boat into place on the cool sandy shores.
He clambered rather ungainly to his feet, wincing as he stretched muscles that had been abused over the last few days. He clutched the blanket around his still-wet form with one hand and extended the other to Misty, offering her help to her feet in the likely case that she was in as much pain as he was.
She looked at his hand for a brief moment before grasping it firmly with her own. "Hey, Ash?" she asked quickly, as he pulled her up with a grunt of effort.
"Thanks," she said, quietly and meaningfully, her eyes wide when they settled on his own. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth briefly, unsure if 'thanks' was an adequate reaction to being saved, if 'thanks' could really express the feelings churning inside her and turning her stomach upside down and inside out. 'Thanks' seemed far too simple, 'thanks' was too easy of a label for how she felt at the moment, but 'thanks' was a start.
His hand gripped hers tighter for a moment, and she was reminded of how it had felt when so long ago, before this trouble had ever really started, he had slipped his hand into hers and she had immediately felt better. Somehow, he promised things with the touch of his hand and the honesty in his eyes.
How very cliché, she scoffed to herself, but she could not bring herself to pull her hand away from his reassuring grasp.
And besides, it was Ash that she was having these thoughts and feelings about. Sometimes it was hard to reconcile the extraordinary person he continuously proved to be when faced with unbearable odds and the dumb kid who was also her best friend.
Two sides of the coin.
He kept his hand in hers, and he looked uncertain, drawing his bottom lip between his teeth. He looked like he wanted to say something. "Misty…"
Her thoughts were broken at the new cry, and her eyes shot up to see her sisters rushing along the beach, their movements as synchronized as any of their dances, their beautiful, full hair that seemed to not have suffered the ill will of the last few days (or nights, really) flying like streamers behind them.
And suddenly she felt her heart tightening at the sight of them, her lip trembling with suppressed emotion at the sight of her sisters, her vapid, foolish, dainty, wonderful sisters. Her family. Her family, their faces blurred by the tears that had suddenly sprung to her eyes as they hurried towards her, because she was their sister, no matter how much they may pick on her as the littlest, the least Sensational of the Sisters.
Her hand left Ash's, and one of the crew members helped her over the edge of the boat onto the soft sand below her, Officer Jenny's blanket still wrapped around her now-bare shoulders. Her sneakers squished, full of salt water, as she stumbled across the small stretch of beach remaining between her and her three sisters.
She was swallowed by a gaggle of arms, her cheek coming to rest on Daisy's shoulder while hair of a multitude of colors tickled her face. Suddenly she felt safe, and she felt appreciated, and to be honest those were not emotions she often associated with her well-meaning but clueless older sisters.
"We're, like, so glad you're okay!" Violet cried, her arms looped around Misty's waist from behind. "We were so worried about you!"
"Yeah, you gave us all a scare!" Daisy scolded.
"You should have told us if you were going to go swimming!" Lily piped up, and Misty was quite impressed that she was able to hold in her groan of disbelief.
"Sorry," she said, her voice muffled against Daisy's shoulder. "I'm sorry you guys were worried."
Ash, having started to hoist himself over the edge of the boat as well, suddenly found his feet leaving the ground as he was gripped firmly around the middle as though he weighed nothing more than Pikachu.
"Good man," Lt. Surge thundered once he had set Ash on his feet, and he clapped him so hard on the back that Ash's knees gave out under him, and he fell onto all fours on the gritty sand with a grunt of surprise. "Good job!"
Good man, Misty pondered briefly, lifting her head to peek over Daisy's shoulders at Ash, trying to pinpoint when the stupid boy who had stolen and ruined her bike had started to grow into a man, and a considerate, and brave, and kind one, at that. When had he started growing up? When had she started growing up?
Misty sucked in her breath hard at the familiar cry, her heart giving an almost palpable ache as she twisted her head once more to locate the sound, coming from the tower of ice glistening in the sunlight. "Togepi!" she exclaimed, and she felt tears sting at the corners of her eyes once more as she withdrew from her sister's embrace, hurrying on still not-completely steady legs towards the sound, towards where her little Pokemon had appeared in the wide doorway to the cavern, looking, as it always seemed to in situations of danger, none the worse for the wear.
Togepi trilled joyfully as Misty scooped it up into her embrace, her arms cuddling the Pokemon close under her chin. "Oh, Togepi, I was so worried about you!" she exclaimed with a quaver to her voice. "I'm so glad you're safe!"
"They're all back," a familiar voice declared proudly, and Misty looked up to see Brock standing in the opening now, a broad smile at his face and his Pokeballs returned to his belt, with Misty's remaining Pokemon at his feet.
"Brock!" she exclaimed this time, hurrying over to her friend and her Pokemon, Togepi still clutched protectively in her grasp. She knelt down on the cool, damp sand, elated to be reunited with her Pokemon when her deepest fear was that they would be lost forever. Being without them the last few days had been like being without a part of herself—it felt as wrong as if Lucinda had taken one of her arms or legs, when she had taken her Pokemon from her.
She flung herself at Brock, her arms useless as she kept them wrapped tight around Togepi, causing her body to knock into his as he laughed and wrapped an arm around her back for support.
"I'm glad to see you," he said, his voice surprisingly thick. "I wasn't sure if I ever would again."
"I know," she replied softly, shivering slightly in her damp clothes as she realized, anew, just how much danger she had been in, how close she had come to not making it back to see the sunshine. How much, really, she had to thank Ash for.
She knelt down on the sand, her arms reaching for her Pokemon. "And I'm so glad to see all of you," she exclaimed, her voice catching a bit. "Even you, Psyduck," she added with the typical annoyed affection she felt for her strange Psychic-Water duck.
"Pikapi!" Misty looked up as Pikachu, having enthusiastically greeted Ash, now bounded over towards her, hopping familiarly into her lap and beaming up at her, pleased.
"Oh, Pikachu!" She wrapped her arms around the Pokemon. "And of course I missed you, too!" As she released the electric mouse, she touched the cap still adorning his head with careful fingers, surprised to see it there. Carefully, she lifted it off, turning the familiar garment over in her hands.
"Well, I didn't want to lose it." Misty looked up at Ash's sheepish face, where he was standing a few feet away, digging a damp shoe into the rapidly warming sand.
Slowly, she rose to her feet, heading back over to him. Her eyes stung, and they had been out of the water far too long for her to blame it on the salt. It was overwhelming, really, to stand there with him and know that he saved her life, and yet he was still the same old Ash that she had always known, the one who was her biggest headache but absolutely her best friend.
She held out the hat to him, and he gave her a lopsided smile as he accepted it back from her. "Thanks," he said, and he glanced down as his gloved fingers briefly brushed over her cool fingers. Then he jammed the hat back onto his wild black hair, and his smile grew into a grin. "I mean, me and this hat have a long history together."
We have a long history together.
"Yeah," she said softly. "You've been through a lot, you and that hat."
He swallowed, the irony of her statement not lost on him—surprising, really, since a lot was often lost on Ash. "Yeah. We have."
Awkward and unsure, he shifted his gaze to Brock. "What happened, Brock? How did you figure it out?"
Brock smiled, perhaps a bit knowingly, before answering Ash's question. "I wish I could take all the credit, but really, it was Pikachu who figured it out."
He blinked and glanced down at his most trusted companion with a look of surprise on his face. "Pikachu?"
"Chaaaa," Pikachu confirmed, looking rather proud of himself.
"I gave him the weapon," Brock explained, "and as soon as it was in his hands, it opened up into a sort of sword. It makes sense, doesn't it?" he mused. "After all, when Lucinda was at her most powerful, she took all the Pokemon away from their trainers. It makes sense that to defeat her, you would need the help of a Pokemon."
Ash furrowed his brow. "I guess I didn't think about it that way." He laughed ruefully. "Well, obviously I didn't think about it that way, or else we would have figured it out a lot sooner."
"Well, we figured it out in time," Brock replied, and then he exhaled hard. "We really got lucky this time, though."
"Yeah," Ash answered lowly, and a shiver ran down his spine at the thought of just how close, really, they had come. He met Brock's eye. "What happened to her?"
Brock hesitated. "Come on. I'll show you."
Misty and Ash exchanged a bewildered look at that—they weren't sure they wanted to see whatever it was Brock had to show them, really. But with a shared shrug, they fell into line behind their friend and headed back towards the ice tower that had once towered so forebodingly over them.
Instinctively, Ash reached out to touch the doorway, and was surprised when his glove came back damp. "It's melting," he said wonderingly, touching the ice again. No longer was it composed of that strange glass-like ice, cold but unable to be penetrated. Now it was normal, of their world again rather than the supernatural world that Lucinda had created.
Misty's eyes followed a bead of water as it trailed almost lazily down the wall. "I guess it's really over, then."
Brock reached over, squeezing her shoulder briefly before indicating his head towards the ice staircase, which Ash at least regarded with much more caution now that he knew it was damp. "Come on," he suggested, and the three moved carefully and slowly up the stairs for what they hoped to be the very last time.
At the top of the tower, at the clearing Ash was sure he would see in his nightmares for years to come, he recoiled at what he found there, and Misty clamped a hand over her mouth in shock.
There was Lucinda, or rather what had once been Lucinda. Now she was carved from the same ice as the tower, forever frozen as a statue of misery. It was as though someone had made an incredibly detailed model or mold of her, and left it as a tribute.
Very cautiously, Ash approached and touched the frozen Lucinda gingerly. The statue was smooth and glass-like, much the way the ice tower had been before the spell had been broken and Lucinda had been defeated. Lucinda had been defeated, but the magic could not be completely sucked out of her, and so here she would remain, perfectly preserved, her face twisted into an angry, bitter scowl.
And again, Ash almost felt a swell of pity for her, deep down underneath his anger and resentment. Because it was true, what he had said—she had never had a single friend in her life, never had seen the value of a friendship, and for that, he felt sorry for her.
He reclaimed his hand and glanced over at his friends, at Misty and Brock and Pikachu, and the pity in his stomach was replaced by gratitude. Lucinda had chosen her path, and Ash had chosen his, and he was certain he would be proven right in the end. And even if Lucinda was right, and he never became a Pokemon Master, at least he wouldn't be alone. At least he would always have the people—and Pokemon—that mattered most to him.
For now, however, he grimaced as he walked away from the statue of Lucinda. "Come on," he called over his shoulder as he started to head back down the staircase. "The ship's waiting to take us back, and I apparently have a lot of explaining to do about a certain boat that Gary and I, um, borrowed…"
When Ash woke up the next morning, it was to a world of darkness within his bedroom.
His eyes shot to the clock next to his bed, long replaced since that fateful day he had awoken too late to receive a standard starting Pokemon and his life had been forever altered. He panicked to see that it was ten past eleven in the morning. Something must have gone wrong somehow…somehow, Lucinda's curse hadn't truly been broken…
He leapt out of bed, running before his feet had even fully hit the ground, tripping over his backpack on the floor and stumbling to the window…
…only to find that his mother had merely drawn the curtains.
Not immediately content with this explanation, Ash threw open the blinds, and blinked in the blinding sunshine that poured into the room. It had just been his mother after all, no doubt assuming he would want to rest after the days just past. Sheepishly, Ash glanced around the now-bright room, glad that no one was there to witness is mistake.
And there was no one there—even Pikachu was gone by now. Curiously, Ash pulled on a pair of clean jeans (ones without holes, unlike the pair his mother had deemed unsalvageable) and a pair of socks before paddling out into the hallway.
In the dining room, Pikachu and Togepi were sitting on the table, enjoying stacks of maple syrup drenched pancakes. They didn't even look up as Ash entered the room, too busy exhaling small sighs of delight as they enjoyed their feast. Ash's mom always was the only one who could beat Brock in the kitchen.
Brock, however, was nowhere to be seen; neither was Misty, for that matter. For a moment, Ash wondered if it had all been a strange dream. But no, the stiffness and soreness of his body stood as a testament.
"Good morning!" his mother chirped, coming in from the kitchen with a jug of orange juice and a plate of fresh pancakes that he assumed was for him, despite the greedy look the two Pokemon were giving the latest batch. Sure enough, she gave the two a warning look before setting the plate down in front of his normal seat. "How are you feeling, honey?"
"Fine, Mom, thanks," he replied, ignore the aches and pains that said otherwise as he cautiously sat down. His mother seemed to notice his slow, stiff movements, and she frowned in her anxiety. "Really," he added quickly before she could protest, "I'm just tired. I'll be fine by tomorrow."
"Maybe I should get you an appointment with the doctor," she fretted, and Ash rolled his eyes.
"I'm fine," he insisted again. He looked around. "Where are Misty and Brock?" he asked, eager to change the subject but also genuinely wondering about his friends' whereabouts.
"Eat," his mother insisted, pushing the plate of pancakes closer to him, and, well, he certainly didn't have to be told again, though he raised his eyebrows at her, waiting for her answer. "Brock is down at the lab with Professor Oak and Tracy. They're examining that…thing, that Brock used," she looked a little uncomfortable, unwilling to identify the weapon. "And Misty said she wanted to go for a walk. I think just along the river. I told her not to wander too far."
"Oh," he replied, mouth full of pancake. Instinctively he began shoveling it in faster, both wanting to finish as quickly as possible and enjoying the rich flavor. "Mmm. This is good, Mom," he complimented around the food in his mouth, cramming as much in as he could, as though he hadn't eaten in weeks.
He made quick work of the plate of pancakes, and stood up, the chair legs squeaking as he pushed away from the table. "I'm going to go see if I can find Misty," he said, trying hard to keep his voice casual. He looked anxiously over at his mom, who was busy doling out more pancakes to the two Pokemon on the table, wondering if she could read his mind the way she seemed to be able to when he was little.
He seemed to catch a lucky break that day, however, as she didn't even glance up. "All right, dear," she replied cheerfully. "Be careful," she added as a warning, and Ash knew that it was the events of the last five days that made her worry—after all, he was about to take a stroll through Pallet Town on a warm, sunny day…he didn't have much to 'be careful' about.
"Right," he agreed, regardless, hurrying to grab his sneakers from his bedroom. "Coming, Pikachu?" he asked, casually, but his trusted Pokemon only gave him an incredulous look over the stack of food in front of him. "Right, I'll take that as a 'no,'" he chuckled, grabbing his hat off the hook near the door and jamming it over his uncombed hair.
After leaving, he wandered to the edge of town, towards Viridian, following the water's edge, remembering how it felt to leave home for the first time with a reluctant Pokemon in tow. So much had changed since the day years ago; sometimes it was hard to believe that he was the same person. And that day had changed everything in his life…
It wasn't too far along the way that he saw her; obviously she had heeded his mother's wishes that she didn't wander too far. She sat along the water's edge, her head tilted back in the sun and her feet dabbling in the river, and she looked…she looked pretty, he admitted to himself, pretending that that thought didn't scare him senseless, the idea of Misty looking pretty. And without trying, without dolling herself up, just by…being Misty. Just by being there. Just by being herself.
"Hey," he called softly, not wanting to startle her, and she opened her eyes and glanced over at him, a smile playing over her lips.
"Hey," she responded, and they looked at each other in silence for a moment. "Come sit," she offered, nodding her head to the ground.
He sat down next to her. The ground was damp from the riverbed and soaked into the legs of his jeans. He fiddled with the grass behind him, suddenly aware of her proximity in a way he could not ever remember being before. They sat in a silence that seemed comfortable for her, but was torturous to him, and he worried she would hear his suddenly harried heartbeat—it was pounding in his ear like a drum, certainly she had to be able to hear it as well.
"And now we rebuild," Misty said softly, suddenly, and Ash immediately felt guilty from focusing on the sound of his own heart when in reality, their world was still broken into pieces.
"Yeah," he replied, uncertain as to what he could say to offer comfort. "I'm sorry about your gym, Misty," he added softly.
She shrugged her shoulders with a forced lightness, shrugging off his apology. "It's all right," she said with the air of one trying to convince them both. "It's just a building." Ash knew she was thinking of Koga at that moment, of the far more precious things that had been lost, things that could not be rebuilt or repaved. Across Kanto, the gyms were destroyed but the gym battles were underway once more now that the leaders had returned, those leaders using their creativity to secure a temporary location as they rebuilt. It was almost a final act of defiance to the memory of Lucinda. Trainers battled, badges were won, and the dream was always a little bit closer.
Except, of course, for those who visited Fuchsia City, where the gym remained closed and the Soul Badge out of reach while Janine took the time to mourn her father before she took up his duties.
"Do you think Brock will go back home?" Ash asked, thinking of his friend back at his home, making breakfast alongside Ash's mother.
Misty nodded. "Probably. He said he needs to look after his brothers and sisters while his dad works on rebuilding the gym."
He sighed. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. It would have been fun, though, to have him along again—me, you, Brock, and Tracey." Suddenly, a horrible thought occurred to him. "You're not going home, are you?" he asked, concerned.
She paddled her feet back and forth in the water, a thoughtful expression no her face, while he sat tense, awaiting her answer.
"No," she answered after what seemed like an excessively long time, and Ash felt his shoulders relax and hoped that his relief wasn't too obvious. "My sisters will hire someone for the manual part of the job of rebuilding, and they have each other. Besides," she added, looking at him with a bit of a smile on her lips and in her eyes, "I am home."
His mouth went a bit dry and he swallowed hard, unsure how to take that statement. She was home…here in Pallet Town? Here by the river? Or did she mean…
Before he could properly contemplate what she meant, however, she had already moved on, turning her gaze up river, towards Viridian City. "This is near where we met for the first time," she commented, gazing as though she could see, awhile upstream, the young girl she had once been fishing a young boy from the water.
What a chance of fate that fish hook had been. It had never before truly hit Ash just how easily he could have continued on by and missed meeting the girl who would become his best friend, who would change his life forever.
He laughed, the sound burbling forth. "Yeah, I guess it is," he said. He hesitated, then a bit sheepishly, told her, "I'm sorry I wrecked your bike, Misty."
"Don't be," she replied swiftly. "I'm not."
Ash laughed again, remembering the many storms the girl next to him had raged over him for first stealing, and then promptly destroying, her bike. After all, she had followed him for years because of that. And sure, by now Ash was pretty sure that Misty probably also enjoyed—or at least tolerated—his company but there was still a reason, besides lack of funds, why he was so reluctant to replace it. "Yeah right," he teased, "I remember how angry you were about that thing."
She nodded. "Oh, yeah, I was angry," she agreed. "But I'm not sorry it happened. Otherwise I never would have come with you."
His breath caught in his throat and he dropped his gaze to the ground in case his face was turning red. He pulled at the grass and peered up at her from under the brim of his cap while he contemplated her words. As before, she didn't seem to share his discomfort, but this time she seemed to pick up on his, and she smiled, maybe a bit nervously.
"That's not to say," she said warningly, "that you still don't owe me a new bike. You're still gonna have to pay up someday, Ketchum."
Ash laughed, relieved that she broke the odd air that had fallen around them like a thick fog. Her face cleared, and she laughed too, and he wished he could explain it to her—explain how when she looked at him the way she had been, his heart thudded somewhere up in his throat and it was racing away, and he felt a little dizzy because of it. Maybe she'd know why. Maybe she'd be able to explain it.
She had always been so much smarter than him, though of course he'd rather die than admit that to her.
In the past, he would have made a crack about how getting her another bike would be the only way to get rid of her, but today, for some reason, he held his tongue, fearful that she would take his words for truth as opposed to playful teasing. And he didn't want to get rid of Misty.
"Yeah, well," he said, laughing nervously, "you might be waiting for awhile. Pokemon battles don't pay enough for a bike."
She smiled, seemingly pleased at that. "That's okay," she assured him. "I can wait. I'm not in a hurry."
"Ha!" he exclaimed in jest. "Since when? Man, when we first met all you would talk about would be that stupid bike, asking me when I was going to get you a new one."
She made a face at him. "Things change," she reminded him. "That was a long time ago."
With a boldness that surprised him, Ash inched his hand over a bit so that it covered hers, where it was resting on the damp ground. "Yeah, I guess they do," he agreed, feeling a flutter of nerves in his stomach as he carefully gauged the reaction on her face.
She, much like him, looked a bit surprised at the sudden movement, although not, to his relief, upset or angry. Rather, she studied his face with a thoughtful look in her eyes, and then, suddenly, carefully, she leaned over towards him.
He froze in place as her face loomed closer, and he was pretty sure that at any moment, he might throw up his heart; it was pounding so loudly and uncomfortably in his throat. How was it that this moment, sitting by the placid river with his closest friend, was so much more terrifying than everything he had faced in the last five days? It was a similar feeling to how he had felt standing on the edge of the cliff, high above the churning water—the feeling of being on the very end of something so much bigger than himself.
And if he stepped off, there was no turning back, and there was no telling what would happen once his feet left solid ground.
Misty's eyes were very blue, and he could see his own petrified expression reflected in them, and it was comical, really, how frightened he looked.
Her nose bumped against his, and she laughed a bit, her eyes crinkling at the corners, and suddenly it was okay. Suddenly, he wasn't afraid anymore. The terror rushed from his body and rolled off the bank and into the river, and he laughed, too, relieved.
Then he closed his eyes when he felt the brief touch of Misty's cool, dry lips against his, a feather-light touch, and it took him a moment to realize in full that he was kissing Misty, he was actually kissing her, or maybe she was kissing him, he wasn't sure if there was a difference…and that really…it was actually pretty nice. Uncertainly, he rested his hand against her shoulder, almost afraid to do anything more than touch her in an almost casual way, which was silly, wasn't it? When they were kissing?
"Oh please—I think I'm going to vomit."
Misty drew back quick as a flash, so quickly that Ash lost his balance and toppled over, and really, he had never, ever hated Gary Oak more, and all his former gratitude for sending help from Pallet Town flew out the window. No, Gary Oak was exactly the same jerk he had always been, and Ash glared up at him from his position on the ground as Gary leaned over him and smirked.
"Really, Misty, I think you could do better. Like say…a Snorlax. Or a Muk."
Misty's face flushed a bright pink. "Buzz off, Gary," she snapped, irritated.
"Well, that's not very grateful of you, is it, when I saved all your 'hinds?" Gary asked, obviously impressed with himself. He crossed his arms and cocked his head to the side, still giving Ash that familiar, self-satisfied smirk. "And that was after Ash so gallantly left me for dead in the middle of the ocean."
"I did not," Ash replied, offended at that. "I couldn't find you! Plus, you were the one who said I should steal the boat in the first place!"
"Yeah, yeah," Gary brushed off Ash's protests nonchalantly. "You still owe me, Ashy-boy." He eyed them both skeptically. "And really, Ashy, I have to say, this is a scene I never thought I'd see. I mean, you're just such a dork that it's hard to imagine how any girl could ever see past the cloud of 'loser' that hangs around you."
Ash leapt to his feet at that, predictably incensed at Gary's insults. And yet at the same time, there was something almost relaxing in the familiarity of the argument. Maybe it was knowing that despite all the dangers and changes they faced, Gary would always be the same: a grade-A jerk.
"Calm down," Gary laughed, waving a hand in Ash's direction. "I didn't come here to fight with you. You just make it so ridiculously easy sometimes that I can't help myself." He poked Ash on the shoulder. "You gotta learn how to control that temper of yours, Ashy-poo, or it'll get you in trouble."
"Yeah, well you gotta learn how to shut that mouth of yours, Gary, or it'll get you in trouble," Ash shot back, his fists clenched in loose fists. But despite his bad temper at Gary's jabs, and his irritation at being interrupted, he couldn't help but be relieved to see that Gary was all right.
Gary raised an eyebrow, obviously unimpressed at this comeback. "Well, I just came to make sure that you actually made in through in one piece. And figured if you wanted to sing my praises, I'd allow you to do so. But I suppose there's only so much class I can expect from you, Ashy." He chuckled a bit to himself. "Catch ya later."
Ash glared at Gary's back as he started heading down the path towards Pallet Town, and when he was a fair distance away, he called out. "Hey, Gary!"
He turned back. "What?" he demanded.
Ash was silent for a moment, studying Gary carefully. And finally, he offered his long-time rival a half-smile, the right corner of his lips raising slightly. "Thanks," he said, and he meant it.
Gary looked a bit surprised—it was obvious that he hadn't really expected to be thanked, and that he had only counted himself lucky to come upon Ash in what was a potentially embarrassing situation. After another pause, he nodded awkwardly, the animosity gone from his expression, and Ash's smile grew just a little bit.
And then Gary turned back and started walking again. Ash felt no urge to call him back—Gary was merely heading back to Pallet Town. He would certainly see him again—probably long before he actually wanted to see him.
It was then that he remembered what Gary had stumbled upon when he had found Ash and Misty, and he glanced down at Misty, still seated by the riverbank.
She kept her eyes on the ground, kind of picking at the grass again, her cheeks still pink with embarrassment, and she didn't speak. Ash studied her carefully for a moment, and it occurred to him that she was giving him an out. Gary had diverted them from the awkward aftermath of a first kiss, and now she was giving him the chance to pretend that it had never happened. It wasn't often, that Misty let him take the lead. It was just that for once, Misty was just as uncertain as he was.
But funnily enough, he felt a lot more sure of himself now.
He smiled and extended his hand down to Misty. "Come on. Mom'll be making lunch soon!"
She gave him a curious look, but took his hand, and he pulled her to his feet. "Is food the only thing you ever think about?" she grumbled as she found her footing.
He grinned, a little bashfully, and didn't release her hand. "Nahh. Not just food." She gave him another quizzical look, and Ash gave her hand a little tug. "Come on, let's go home."
She smiled now, prettily, almost shyly, a sort of smile he wasn't really used to seeing on her face, and certainly not one that one he was used to seeing directed towards him.
"Yeah," she echoed, their linked hands swinging back and forth between them as they walked, so symbolic of something new. "Let's go home."
Wow. It's hard to believe that this is finally, finally the end. Despite losing interest in the fandom in the end, this was definitely a labor of love, and I'm a bit sad to see it at an end. This is the longest completed fanfiction I've written, and my first sort of adventure-epic.
First of all, I apologize again for taking forever. Thank you to all of those who have stuck with me on this crazy journey!
Thank you to every single person who has taken the time to read and review. Thank you especially to Spruceton Spook, Bittersweet Romanticide, Pikagurl, and Milotic, who have read and reviewed since the beginning so long ago. Thank you for your dedication and your always insightful, thoughtful reviews. I am so lucky you came across my story!
Thank you to the 135 people who have added this story to their Favorites list!
You may have noticed that not all of your questions ended up being answered in this final chapter. That's because I want to keep the option open for someday doing a sequel. I don't know if I will or will not, knowing how hard it was to finish this in the end, but some of the endings are purposely left open.
Lastly, I'd like to take a moment to plug my latest project: Right now, I have to keep a blog for one of the computer courses I am taking. I decided to review toys and trends of my childhood, which was the 90s, and see if they stand up to the test of time. Pokemon is covered! If you're in your late teens-mid 20s (or any other age, of course!) and want to read my sometimes snarky, sometimes thoughtful, always nostalgic thoughts on Skip-It, Pokemon, Pogs, Easy-Bake Oven, Furby, and much, much more, please visit! The link can be found on my profile page. Please leave your thoughts—I'd love to generate a big following!
Thank you again to everybody! I hope you have enjoyed this series, and that the ending lived up to your expectations.