Disclaimer: Don't Own Pokemon!
A/N: Alrighty, so real quick, I just wanted to say that, for the sake of this fic, the second Cardcaptors movie never happened! Cool? If you've seen the movie, I'm sure you'll all understand why. And, I also hope that I got down Li and Sakura's personalities down pat; it's been a while since I've seen a CCS episode and I actually gave those two their own little scene here! So, I hope all you CCS fans out there enjoy it!
Chapter 16 – An Unexpected Confession
"So…you performed a-a…s-soul split, was it?"
It was Brock who had voiced the question aloud, tilting his head to one side as he tested the word out in his mouth. If truth be told, he had never even heard of such a thing before today and, even with all of his knowledge concerning the prophecy and the legend, he had absolutely no idea what a soul split was.
And he was relieved to see that he wasn't the only one. All around him, heads simultaneously turned to the four figures who seemed to know more about this supposed 'soul split' than anyone else. Even Aaron, who was now nearest to his mother, stopped to stare at his brother, sister in law, and the two ethereal beings with amusement.
Apparently the question was warranted.
At the sudden question, Hikara suspiciously narrowed her eyes, her memory of those past moments coming back to her in a flash, and quickly shifted her gaze to Ash.
How had he known about the soul split in the first place? Before today, it hadn't even been explained, let alone, mentioned, especially not by her, and yet he seemed so confident that the soul split would truly work and that he would have the ability to save Misty's life. But how?
Perhaps he knew far more than he let on. Maybe she oftentimes took his knowledge of the prophecy for granted and, perhaps, he deserved much more credit than she gave him.
Still, the soul split was a tricky business indeed and Hikara wasn't quite sure what to make of Ash's sudden knowledge of it. It was extremely risky; there hadn't even been the guarantee that Misty would make it out alive, even if he split his soul properly. He had been risking his own life as well by demanding the split be done. If Misty had died after the split had been complete, he could have lost his life as well.
Perhaps Hikara had simply underestimated Ash's love for Misty. Maybe she didn't quite understand the love they shared and maybe she didn't even have an inkling as to the lengths he would go for her. Even after knowing the chosen one for as long as she had (which had to have been nearing the twenty year mark by her count), she still had much to learn about the two lovers and she swore she probably would never know the whole story as far as those two were concerned.
That being said, it would bother the young ethereal being to the ends of eternity if she didn't figure out just how exactly Ash had known about the soul split. So, she figured, now was a good a time as any to interrogate him and let him know exactly what he had gotten himself into.
"Which reminds me…" Hikara murmured, getting Ash's full attention. He stared back at her, a confident smile put in perfect place on his youthful face, with eyes of fiery passion and a gaze so captivating that it seemed, for once, his profile truly fit that of the 'chosen one,' "How did you know about the soul split? I've never mentioned it to you before."
Hikara watched as Ash's grin grew wider, that childish sparkle in his eyes clearly evident, as he shrugged nonchalantly in response to her question, "Simple. I didn't."
Hikara's mouth nearly hit the floor. Mari gave a half-hearted laugh and a knowing smirk. Misty looked to her husband with confusion written all over her face. Delia smiled that motherly smile of hers and shook her head, as if she knew an answer like this was coming. Brock's eyes knitted together in severe confusion; if he was confused before, it was nothing compared to what he was feeling now. The kids, namely Aly and Andrew, looked to each other, equal expressions of puzzlement written on their faces, before turning back to the group to listen for an explanation. Li smirked in satisfaction, as if he needed no explanation while Sakura just smiled gently, knowing that whatever clarification needed to be said, would be explained in due time.
And Aaron, well, he simply stared at his brother, a gaze so full of understanding and admiration, as he awaited an explanation as well.
Hikara was the first to speak out, "W-What do you mean you didn't know?!"
Ash shrugged again and casually slipped his arm around Misty's waist, "I just went on instinct."
Hikara slapped her forehead hard, the sound echoing within the confines of the arena, and brought her hand down to wipe across her face.
She couldn't believe it. He had gone on instinct…instinct! He hadn't even known that there was such a thing as a soul split! How could he have been so rash…so-so incompetent…so…so Ash! It was mere, dumb luck. Yes, that's what it was, Hikara figured. The kid was always getting lucky one way or another and this was just another one of those times.
That's right, another lucky coincidence…
Boy, was that the understatement of the year…
"Hikara, I know what you're thinking," Ash's voice caused the distraught female guardian to look up in exasperation. She knew she looked irritated, among other things, but that didn't seem to deter him from saying what needed to be said, "I took a chance…it was all I had left to save her. I took a chance and just prayed and hoped that something like a soul split existed…" he hesitated for a moment and looked away. Hikara could sense the sudden fear hiding within his voice and her features instantly softened, "I've seen crazier in my lifetime and I guess I just trusted you enough that you would know what you were doing."
At this, Hikara let out a sigh, though it was not of displeasure. She let a tiny, yet tired smile grace her features before walking up to Ash and placing a hand on his shoulder. In response to her gesture, he looked down to her and, sensing no further irritation on her part, gave a smile of his own.
Ash was hoping Hikara would understand his motives and, as always, she had.
"I should have known better than to doubt you," she muttered, shaking her head, though she was far from annoyed. She supposed it didn't really matter how he had done it; the fact that he was successful should have been enough for her straight from the beginning. He was the 'chosen one' after all, and that being the case, luck and coincidence simply did not exist.
Ash placed a gentle hand on Hikara's shoulder, "Your doubts were justified," he gave a half hearted laugh, "I even doubted me, so I don't blame you if you did too."
Hikara sighed aloud once more and bowed to Ash, "You never cease to amaze me o chosen one," she half mocked, sweeping her arm across her body as if in the presence of royalty.
Ash shook his head at his guardian friend and let out a short laugh to show his approval. Misty giggled along with him, leaning into her husband's embrace and feeling very at home within his strong arms.
"Umm…you guys never did answer my question…"
"What's that Brock?" asked Ash, turning to his best friend.
"The soul split, what is it exactly?"
"Ahh…the mysteries and consequences of the ethereal soul split," and it was Mari who spoke this time, her arms folded within the folds of her black cloak. She took a few steps forward, commanding the attention of those around her, and allowed her azure eyes to land on Ash and Misty. She had the slightest traces of a smirk on her perfectly pink lips and raised a brow, as if to contemplate how she should start her explanation.
"So what is it exactly that our parents agreed to?" asked Aly, folding her arms in front of her chest.
Mari switched her smooth gaze to Aly and smiled that confident smile of hers, "Well, to put it into laymen's terms, it simply means to split the soul."
Aly nodded at the obvious and waited. However, after a few moments of staring into the icy eyes of the black cloaked guardian, she knew no further explanation would come unless she pressed the subject.
Aly sighed irritably, "And? What the hell are the consequences?!"
Misty made a noncommittal sound of disapproval from behind, causing Aly to cross her arms even tighter across her chest in frustration. Mari's eyes, however, lit up with amusement.
"Why must you purposefully aggravate the girl?" questioned Hikara, as she walked up to her sister with a look of pure annoyance and dissatisfaction.
Mari shrugged nonchalantly, turning her eyes away from Aly's to stare at Hikara's, "It's fun," she said simply.
Hikara rolled her eyes and loudly cleared her throat, "So, the consequences…" she continued, as if Mari hadn't even spoken. She could hear her sister give a soft half-hearted laugh, but chose to ignore it, "While you, Ash," and it was at this point she turned to Ash, "split your soul to save Misty," and her gaze shifted once more to Misty, "There are things I feel you all need to know about this whole…process. Firstly," she paused for a brief moment, switching her gaze between Ash and Misty separately, "The two of you are connected in body, mind, and spirit now. If one feels heartache, the other will feel it to an extent. If one is fearful, the other will feel a sort of numbed out fear. Although the emotion won't be quite as strong as with the primary party, it's still enough for you to know that something is up."
Ash and Misty both nodded simultaneously. It made sense, after all. They were connected, bound to each other by some invisible string of fate, and would now feel and possibly experience some of what their significant other was feeling.
"So," Hikara continued, reading Ash and Misty's reaction as looks of understanding, "If Ash is in pain, whether it be physical or emotional, Misty, you'll definitely know it and visa versa. Make sense?"
Another nod of the head prodded her to continue, "Alright…so, the bad part…"
Hikara could hear sharp intakes of breath from around the room and inwardly cringed. She took in a deep breath of her own, readying herself to drop the inevitable bomb on the group. But before she could elaborate, a recognizable voice – Mari's to be exact – rang from next to her.
"You're a terrible storyteller," she mocked in boredom, covering her mouth with a fake yawn, "Bottom line is, if one dies, so does the other."
Hikara's eyes widened in disbelief at how terribly blunt and insensitive her sister could be sometimes. She took a quick peek around the room and saw looks of understanding on both Ash and Misty's faces - apparently they had figured as much. Brock's eyes were wide with initial shock, but soon, she could tell, he had regained his senses, probably in favor of waiting to see what else she would add. Li, Sakura, Delia, and Aaron all nodded, as if they had known all along and were prepared with the outcome.
It was the eyes of the children that Hikara was fearful for.
Still, when she switched her focus from the adults to Aly and Andrew, she found nothing in their demeanor that seemed to indicate any sort of fear or distress. They only nodded along with the group and she could have sworn she even saw a bit of a smirk on Aly's youthful lips. Perhaps she had not given these kids enough credit.
Misty, ever the watchful mother, caught her children's behavior too.
Handing baby Aiden over to her husband, she walked over to them and placed a gentle hand on each of their shoulders. Her face painted with worry and her eyes knitted in slight confusion, she voiced her thoughts, "You two are okay with this? I mean, I know there's not much that can be done now, but…"
Aly merely shrugged, her smirk still in place, "It's fine, Mom. Besides, I'd rather have you stick around a bit longer then to worry about something that we don't even have to worry about yet."
Andrew nodded in agreement with his sister, "And it's not like you and Dad are going to live without each other anyway…so, I don't see what the big deal is," he grinned at her, giving her his most boyish smile, "And, between the three of us, I'm not all that keen on letting Dad take care of us by himself," he added as a joke.
Misty laughed aloud, covering her mouth and shaking her head at her two children. Ash, upon hearing the small jabs of humor being thrown his way, merely rolled his eyes, albeit, in a playful sort of way. He marched himself up to his family and wrapped a single arm over Misty's shoulders. She hugged him back, relaxing her head against his chest and sighing. Aly let out a laugh too and wrapped an arm around her father while Andrew, shaking his head in disbelief at his 'dysfunctional' family, wrapped one around their mother.
Pikachu, not to be left out, hopped atop its trainer's shoulder and gave an excited 'pika!' to show its enthusiasm. The electric type was soon joined by its poke-friends, as exuberant roars and squeals of glee filled the area, and the pokemon soon descended upon their friends in a flurry of claws and paws. They formed a sort of semi-circle around the Ketchum's and celebrated their long fought victory, their struggles, and their perseverance that, in the face of adversity, they would rise as one and never, ever give in. It was their trainer that had taught them those qualities, after all.
Li and Sakura stood at the sidelines, admiring the large family of people and pokemon alike. They couldn't help but smile at the scene before them, even Li, who usually sported that look of indifference, had cracked a confident, happy smile at the outcome.
Sakura giggled lightly to herself, a reminiscent sigh escaping her lips. Li, of course, noticed this and shifted his gaze to his peripheral vision. From the corner of his eye, he could clearly see her beautiful features and never felt more compelled to tell her the truth than now. She was so gorgeous, with her light brown shoulder length hair, her pale, porcelain skin, and her vibrant green eyes so full of life and wonder…
He continued to stare at her and he didn't even notice her eyes were on his until she giggled and pulled him from his reverie, "Something the matter, Li?"
Li felt a slight blush creep to his cheeks at being caught staring and immediately averted his gaze and, instead, went to his normal course of action – berating her.
"Do you know how stupid you are?" he rebuked, still avoiding her gaze.
Sakura only smiled and ran a hand through her hair, "What did I do wrong this time?" she asked, an almost knowing tone lacing her voice.
Li swallowed the lump in his throat, "You could've been killed tonight…"
Not expecting this, Sakura's smile faded and was replaced by a mask of confusion.
"What are you--"
He turned on her, interrupting her question, eyes flashing with worry, "What the hell were you thinking putting yourself between Brock and Aaron?! You gave him the perfect opportunity to strike, especially with your back turned! Did you want to get yourself killed?!"
Sakura giggled nervously, rubbing the back of her head, where a fresh bump was already forming as a result of Aaron's attack, and shrugged, "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, I guess."
"Seemed like the right thing to do…of all the idiotic…" he muttered, arms crossed tightly across his chest, his gaze still on the ground in front of him.
Sakura offered him a light smile, knowing that this was the only way he knew how to express his feelings, "I'm sorry I worried you and, if it's any consolation, we won, didn't we?"
Li's face softened a bit at her words of sincerity, but he still refused to look her in the eye.
"The victory wouldn't have meant anything if I had lost you…"
Sakura let her smile slowly slip from her face as she tried to wrap her mind around what Li had just said. She ran an unsure hand through her short, brown locks, mouth slightly ajar and eyes desperately searching Li's face for some sort of emotion that would explain his beautiful, sincere words. But, as he still refused to look at her, she had to make do with his profile and, at the moment, he just seemed so…broken.
Watching him carefully, almost afraid that he would run if she moved too quickly, she made to grab his hand that was dangling by his side. His fist was clenched into a tight, nervous ball and he was trembling ever so slightly. She couldn't help the tiny smile that pulled at her lips at his nervousness and gently pressed her hand comfortingly around his fist.
She felt him flinch instantly and could hear his breath get caught in his throat at her touch but, instead of backing off, Sakura only pressed him further. She gently prodded his clenched fist open with her own hand and intertwined their fingers together, locking them in place, while gently rubbing slow circles into the back of his hand with her thumb. His expression softened instantaneously at her actions and she watched as he slowly turned himself to face her.
As his brown eyes met with her green ones, she could see a certain glimmer in his orbs, an aspect to Li that Sakura rarely ever saw in all the years they had been friends and it caused the smile on her face to brighten ever so slightly. And then, he did something she thought he would never do because it seemed so unlike him.
That tough, cold exterior that he oftentimes exuded had fallen away briefly and Sakura could clearly see the pain she had put him through by putting her own life in danger for the sake of saving Aiden's life. Li dropped his stone walls of security and his eyes, ones that were usually so full of courage and strength, held nothing but fear and concern…concern, probably, for Sakura'a safety. And, though Sakura clearly knew that the young man before her rarely ever showed his true colors to anyone but those close to him, she had to wonder why, all of a sudden, was he acting so…scared.
And slowly, almost as if her own thoughts had urged his actions, Li brought a shaky hand up to cup her cheek softly within his palm. She didn't flinch, didn't even breathe, for she was afraid that this wondrous feeling of his warm skin upon hers would recede and, in truth, she never wanted it to stop. She suddenly felt the butterflies flutter about in her stomach and heart and knew, with every fiber of her being, that this man meant the world to her.
What would she do without him by her side? How would she have ever been able to make it this far without his help, encouragement, and courage to guide her? How had she ever survived before they had even met? To what lengths would she go for him? What lengths would he go for her…
Li was in a state of pure and utter fear. It was an emotion he rarely ever experienced and, when he did, the side effects typically weren't all that pleasant. He always had this heart wrenching feeling in the pit of his stomach whenever she was in danger. He rarely ever thought logically when it was her life on the line. And, even when they fought side by side together, forever locked within this war between good and evil, he truly felt complete. He felt that she completed him, that she was that missing piece of the puzzle that he so utterly desired in his life. Before she had come along so abruptly, he had been a shell of a boy whose only mission was to collect the Clow Cards before they completely wreaked havoc on the citizens of Japan. And, even when he had met the young, amateur guardian, he hadn't thought much of her or her supposed 'abilities.'
But she had grown and so had he and he would never be so grateful to call himself her partner.
Still, he wanted to be more than that. He wanted to be her shoulder to cry on when she was upset, he wanted her to come to him with her problems so that he could, to the best of his abilities, make it all go away, and he wanted to be that single person in her life that she could depend on and love unconditionally until their dying days.
And even now, as his hand remained steadfast on her warm cheek, he couldn't be more relieved at the prospect that she hadn't pulled away. Still, that ever present fear, the part of him that told him she would never fall for a man like him, continued to diminish his confidence and, with it, his resolve.
But he would have to find a way to push all those worries to the back of his mind for now. All that mattered was her and that he had almost lost her today.
Thinking back to those several moments in which she had put herself between Brock and Aaron, he had to force himself to hold back a dissatisfied grunt. He should have held her back, done something, anything, so that no danger would ever befall her. What could he have possibly been thinking at the time?! And he knew how she was, always acting without thinking and going to those that needed her without thinking about the dangers she may have put herself into, and he should have sensed that she would do something as reckless as turn her back on the enemy.
But any shred of worry she may have felt towards herself instantly vanished when baby Aiden was in danger. She had sprung into action, as she always did, and disregarded the potential aftermath. Luckily though, she had escaped with her life intact and that was really all that mattered.
He did not even want to think of what would have happened had she not made it…
And the next words he whispered to her, only confirmed these thoughts, "I would have never forgiven myself if anything happened to you."
His words surprised Sakura, evidenced by the way she jumped ever so slightly at the sound of his voice and it was hard for Li to tell whether she had jumped at the meaning of his words or if she was surprised that he had begun talking at all. Her eyes had been glazed over a little more than a second ago and he couldn't really distinguish between the two. Regardless of the reasons though, his hand remained firmly upon her cheek and her other hand pressed resolutely within the palm of his other. He would not be letting her go anytime soon.
"Li…" Sakura murmured, her green orbs sparkling with emotion and speechlessness. She slowly, yet surely, brought her hand to rest upon the hand that was resting on her cheek and offered him a gentle smile. He smiled timidly in return and she could tell by the look he was giving her, that he wanted to say more.
"Sakura, I…" he cast his eyes downward, his nerves getting the better of him. He inwardly scolded himself for his cowardice and reverted his gaze back to hers. She was waiting patiently for him to continue, a gentle, almost reassuring, smile painted on her soft features. Taking in a deep breath, he gathered his courage, swallowed his pride, and spoke purely from his heart.
"Sakura, I'm in love with you."
At hearing her longtime friend and partner's confession, Sakura allowed a small gasp to escape her lips. Her hands trembled slightly under his tight grasp and she found the will to speak escape her for the moment. Everything within her soul was telling her to do something, anything, to try and comprehend exactly what he had just confessed to her. Had he truly just said those words? Could the stand offish, cool-headed young man she had known since she was ten, truly feel the same way for her as she did for him?
Sakura soon found her resolve crumbling around her and, with it, her worries for the future. She had always seemed so intent on making those around her happy, keeping them from danger, and cherishing those that she loved with the utmost sincerity that she oftentimes forgot that she too wished for a happy ending to her story. She never in a million years would have thought that five simple words could have meant so much to her as they did in that moment. And, as she worked up the courage to tell him, to let him know that she reciprocated his feelings for her, she released both of Li's hands and cupped his face in her own.
He looked so utterly indifferent right now, but she could tell by the way his brown orbs wavered ever so slightly, that he was worried. He was worried about her answer, worried, possibly, that she didn't feel the same way, and worried that he may have lost her forever. But she was about to put those worries to rest while simultaneously telling him how she really felt and, all at once, she felt a flutter of excitement flourish within her chest.
Li, on the other hand, was absolutely and positively scared out of his mind. Sure, going up against Clow Cards that would sooner kill him than let him breathe and fighting against evil's most powerful demons and sorcerers was tough, but they all paled in comparison to the look Sakura was giving him now. Her eyes, that were usually so radiant and readable, were staring back at him with a look he had never seen her give him. Her green orbs pierced his very soul and he felt a painful stabbing strike his heart at the very idea that she did not feel the same…however, his mind was put on hold as he felt two warm hands cup his face gently. Staring back into the eyes of the one girl who could ever make him feel this way, his heart leapt in joy as he watched a slow smile light up her angelic face. And, as if things couldn't get any better, she started to lean in ever so slowly, inching her way up to his waiting lips.
Li took in a deep breath, realizing exactly what she was aiming for and what exactly was about to transpire between them. Biting his lip in nervousness and fear of what was to come, he slowly leaned in towards her, meeting her halfway before stopping to check her progress.
Sakura smiled at Li's apprehension and couldn't help but truly feel sorry for him. Relationships and women definitely were not his forte, but what else could she expect from the young warrior? He was confident, aggressive, intimidating, and oftentimes gave her a headache the size of Tokyo and yet, Li had this special side to him that he only let those close to him experience. And she was happy that she was one of those few people that were allowed to see the true Li Syaoran and not the closed off, shell of a man he oftentimes portrayed when with those he was not comfortable with.
And, as she stared within the depths of his hesitant, yet loving eyes, she found a love more powerful than any other overtaking her heart and pressing her forward, urging her to continue her forward ascent to those lips that awaited her arrival.
In an instant, two pairs of warm lips crashed lovingly against one another with nearly twenty years of secret passion being revealed and a love that seemed to only develop with the coming of time. Sakura immediately brought her hands from his face to entangle within his golden brown locks of hair at the back of his head and let out a contented sigh from within his lips. She could feel Li smiling against her lips and shivered as his hesitant arms wound their way around her waist. Clearly, he was nervous, but she hoped with these last few steps their relationship had taken, he would quickly get over it.
Li, for the most part, was feeling a comforting sense of elation filling his senses and he was clearly enjoying every minute of it. Having not been in too many relationships himself, he wasn't quite sure what he was doing, but he only hoped he was doing a damn good job of it. Now that he had Sakura, he wasn't about to lose her and could only be left to hope that she would not just kiss him out of obligation to what he had revealed. He loved every part of her and wasn't about to lose her like he had almost done earlier that day.
Slowly, the two parted, their lips still tingling with warmth and emotion as two pairs of eyes opened simultaneously to look within the others'. Both of their cheeks were slightly tinged in pink and their breathing had picked up ever so slightly. They continued to stare into each other's eyes, neither daring to break the silence…
Until, that is, a certain sarcastic voice rang throughout the arena.
"So…are you going to tell him or are you going to make him read your mind?"
All heads turned to the source of the voice - Mari – and it was then that Sakura realized that they had just kissed in front of their whole congregation of friends. She could instantly feel her cheeks heat up with embarrassment at this prospect.
Hikara sighed and shook her head with irritation.
"Could you be any less sensitive?" she asked, annoyance lacing her voice at her sister's words, "Give them a break."
Mari shrugged, a smirk lighting up her lips, "I'm only saying…by the time she gets it out, we'll all be dead and gone."
Despite herself, Sakura couldn't help but give off a light smile. Mari was right. If she was going to let Li know her feelings, she had to do it without hesitation and with as much love as he had given her.
Turning back to the man in her arms, she couldn't help but admire his good looks and chocolate brown eyes staring back at her with great uncertainty. She knew she would never get a chance as good as this ever again and she needed to seize it. She now knew his feelings for her; it was time she returned the favor.
"Li…" she started and she could see his face visibly tense at the sound of her voice. She smiled even wider at his cute anxiousness, "I don't know what I would do without you."
With those few words said, she pulled from his grasp, much to Li's surprise, and turned her back to him, her heart racing at the idea of what she was about to express to him. For so long she had felt this overwhelming desire to tell him of her true feelings for him, to let him know that he was never far from her thoughts, and to express her love freely and without fear of rejection. But that was exactly the problem. She had always been afraid…afraid of rejection, afraid of failure, and afraid of a life without him by her side. Sakura couldn't even bring herself to think of the possibilities that he might not feel the same way or that his heart had belonged to another, but even through all of her stubbornness, she still had that incessant nagging at the back of her mind that told her to go for it.
Well, perhaps it wasn't quite nagging…more of a push in the right direction.
And though she had always been the 'act before you think' type of person, this was one of those times where she desperately wished for more time to think. She wanted it to come out perfectly, wanted her every emotion to be depicted through her words…because Li was important to her and he deserved it all. Anything less just wasn't good enough.
Still, Sakura would try. She would put her heart and soul into her answer and, once and for all, let him know of her love for him. She needed to tell him that her heart ached for him every minute of the day and that he was her only reason for breathing. She didn't even want to think where she would be had he not walked into her life all those years ago…
So, with her heart feeling as light as a feather and her resolve strengthening by way of her love for him, she took a deep breath, turned back around to face Li, took hold of his hand gently within hers and opened herself up to him.
"Li…I-I…" she stuttered helplessly. Why was this so hard for her?! The hard part was already over; she already knew how he felt about her. They had even kissed for goodness sakes! The only thing missing was her confirmation that she felt the same but, for some odd reason she just couldn't get the words out.
Suddenly, someone from the side coughed – rather loudly – and almost in an irritating sort of way. Sakura turned her head at the noise and gave another weak smile as she watched Mari raise her brows impatiently. She was motioning to her wrist as if an imaginary watch rested there and shrugged in irritation at what, she assumed, would be a quick and timely confession. Hikara, meanwhile, nudged her sister in a desperate attempt to shut her up and gave Sakura a gentle nod, prodding her to continue.
Sakura gave a half-hearted laugh and turned to face Li once more. He was as rigid as she had ever seen him and she knew it was now or never.
Swallowing her nerves and letting her heart speak for her this time around, Sakura finally spoke, "Li, I love you," she said quickly but confidently. Li's eyes looked shocked, as if he weren't expecting this type of confession from her. Sakura smiled gently at his reaction and continued, knowing that if she stopped now, she'd never get the chance to finish, "I love you; I've loved you for a long time now and I've never…I've never gotten the chance to tell you until now. I've never been able to tell you how much you mean to me and that my life isn't worth living unless you're there beside me and that I couldn't imagine living it without you because I…"
It was at this point that Sakura realized she was rambling and that she was severely out of breath. Her heart was beating so fast she thought it would burst from her chest and a heated blush had already crawled its way to her paled cheeks.
Catching her breath and reeling from all that she had just revealed, Sakura chanced a glance up at Li to gauge his reaction. She couldn't imagine how flustered she must have looked to him but, as she looked up into those brown eyes that she loved so much, she could see, as clear as day, a light, airy smile lighting up his tanned features. Apparently, he was quite content with the results of her confession, regardless of how rushed it may have seemed, and, based on his current reaction, Sakura figured the best thing to do was to finish saying whatever was on her mind, listen to whatever it was he might have wanted to add, and call it a day. End of story.
"Li, you're my whole world and I can't express enough how in love I am with you…" she finished, blushing slightly at how she ended her speech.
Continuing to stare into Li's eyes, she watched as he nodded in happiness, his eyes lighting up with ecstasy. He engulfed her in a tight hug, gently stroking her hair and whispering into her ear.
"That's all I needed to hear," he murmured gently, inhaling her sweet scent of flowers and allowing himself the opportunity to realize that she was finally his. She had confessed her love for him and Li couldn't be happier that she had chosen him to give her heart to.
"Well, it's about damn time," sighed Mari, folding her arms in front of her.
Sakura let out a half-hearted laugh as she released Li from their hug and gently leaned into him. His arm found its way over her shoulders as she let out a contented sigh from the back of her throat. Things were perfect for her and she knew nothing could spoil the moment.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!"
Well, almost nothing…
All bliss ceased at the sound of Ash's frantic voice and all heads turned to see his eyes wide with amazement and his mouth hanging open as if he'd seen a ghost which, everyone guessed, wouldn't be too far off in this crazy dimension.
"Ash? Is everything alright?" asked Misty, gently shaking her husband to make sure he was okay.
Ash looked to his wife, mouth still slightly ajar, a jumble of words in his mind, yet no way of speaking them, as he finally forced himself to look back to Li and Sakura.
"You're telling me the two of you are in love?" he asked, completely taken aback.
Multiple sets of confused eyes shot towards Ash's distraught form, yet it only took a second for Misty and Brock to realize what it was their friend was so blind about.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me…" groaned Brock, slapping his forehead in response.
"Ash, for the love of…" Misty muttered, rubbing her temples to relieve herself of the sudden tension that had just built in her head.
Ash suddenly looked embarrassed, "I didn't-I mean, I wasn't-I thought they…I mean…" he stuttered in response, embarrassing himself further and offering absolutely no explanation as to the reason for his confusion. After several moments of tense silence, he placed a nervous hand behind his head, a gesture he had adopted as a child whenever he was placed in an embarrassing situation, and conceded defeat.
All eyes, minus Brock and Misty, still bore the telltale signs of confusion as they continued to stare at Ash, wanting some sort of explanation as to what exactly was going on. He looked completely flustered, a light tinge of pink tinting his tanned face, and the most uncomfortable look occupying his face. Sakura was about to ask what exactly Ash thought of them when an eruption of laughter exploded beside her, causing her heart to jump and her focus to switch to the laughing form of Mari.
"Oh, this is rich!" she belted, holding her sides in laughter, her long locks of black flowing elegantly around her face as she rocked her head back and forth. Her piercing blue eyes sparkled in amusement and she could only laugh harder when Ash's uncomfortable look only increased tenfold.
Multiple sets of eyes focused on Mari's struggling form and awaited an explanation as her laughter slowly died down to light gasps and half-hearted chuckling.
"You," she pointed to Ash, "actually thought Li and Sakura were related!"
Ash dipped his head lower, trying his best to cover his face in shame, "Brother and sister…" he admitted in a lowly mutter, which only resulted in louder laughing on Mari's part.
"And you're supposed to be the chosen one! What a joke!" Mari taunted, her laughing tirade continuing.
"Oh Dad…" sighed Aly, shaking her head and crossing her arms across her chest, "Anyone with half a brain could tell they were in love."
"Hey!" protested Li, but his gripe went unheard.
"It's amazing that you ever realized your feelings for Mom if you couldn't even guess that Li and Sakura had a thing for each other," added Andrew, not wanting to be left out, "I mean, we've only just met them and we could already tell."
"We were that obvious?" muttered Sakura in embarrassment, dipping her head lower to hide the blush that had suddenly made its way to her pale cheeks.
"Pretty much," nodded Brock.
"Yep," added Aly.
"Obviously," supplied Hikara with a smile.
"I thought the two of you were already married," admitted Andrew with a shrug.
Three groans could be heard simultaneously amidst the group of friends and fighters and, through it all, a delighted chuckle resounded throughout, easing the awkwardness in the room.
"I still can't believe you thought they were related," mused Mari, trying her best to cease in her antics, "Guess that little kid inside of you never really left."
"Heh…" Ash chuckled at his own mistake, feeling better about his little 'mess up.'
Misty ruffled up his hair like she had done so many times in their long past together and sighed, "Well, so much for getting top marks in third grade, huh sweetie?"
"Yeah, so much for that," he agreed, draping an arm over his wife's shoulders and giving her a tight squeeze. A loving smile soon followed as he stared into her vibrant eyes and he whispered softly to her, words that were inaudible to anyone who wasn't within immediate earshot, "You still love me though, don't you?"
Misty couldn't miss the immense amount of love and sincerity that laced Ash's words and it made her heart burn with unseen fire. Her heart beat only for him and she often wondered if he truly knew his worth to her. He was such an amazing, wonderful, loving, and devoted husband that it truly overwhelmed Misty to think that he could ever be anything less. He amazed her in ways she couldn't even describe and it made her want to do something she rarely ever did.
Yet, despite her strengths and insurmountable ability to keep her emotions intact and her heart from those that sought to harm her, she couldn't help but let the salty liquid she loathed so much trickle down her face. Feeling like the world was finally right again, she nodded in response to his rhetorical question, leaned further into her pillar of strength and let her emotions run their course. She could feel Ash squeeze her tighter and felt his warm lips gently graze her temple in an attempt to comfort her sudden onslaught of tears. But, unlike the tears Misty had shed over the potential loss of her husband and the safety of her children, her tears were not due to pain.
Misty was happy. She was unexplainably and ridiculously happy. Her heart was soaring now and the weight that had been unceremoniously placed on her shoulders had lifted, leaving her feeling light and alive. She placed a loose arm securely around Ash's waist and watched in teary happiness as Aiden gurgled in response.
Aly and Andrew flanked their parents on either side, exchanging knowing looks and, like their parents, they too were happy.
They were the spitting image of the picture perfect family.
Hikara, who stood across the way from the happy family, let out a soft sigh. The family was the image of perfection. Two wonderfully loving and good looking parents, two steadfast, future heartthrob preteens, and the most well behaved and adorable baby she had ever laid eyes on…tack on a group of kind-hearted and compassionate friends and pokemon and you almost had the perfect family.
The prophecy and the business involving the 'chosen one' was truly the only set back this family had. Had someone else been 'chosen,' their underlying fears of evil penetrating their lives would never have existed. Had Satoshi still been alive, bringing together those orbs of power back in the Orange Islands would have been someone else's responsibility. Hikara seriously had to wonder if Ash ever thought about why it was always him, about why he had to put his life on hold because of obligations that he never knew he had, and she couldn't quite wrap her mind around it all. He was such an easy going guy, he had a great family, and was just the typical, all around nicest guy you'd ever meet, but beneath it all, he harbored these strange powers only given to him because of his mysterious title as 'chosen one.'
She just couldn't make sense of it all. How could he keep up such a happy façade when his family and friends were constantly in danger because of him? His life had never been what most called 'normal' and Hikara knew that it probably would remain so. Still, she had to give the guy credit. He had endured such heartache and truly was the savior of the world and yet he never got any recognition for his sufferings or his sacrifices. He never asked for anything in return, only that he and his loved ones be left in peace, away from evil's prying eyes.
But, as Hikara well knew, evil never rested and this time was no exception.
He was so close too, Hikara knew. He was so close to achieving his wish of living a normal life that she had to wonder about the fairness of it all. He had only a single test left, the final leap to having what had been stripped from him so long ago and Hikara knew that, with perseverance and the strength of his loved ones backing him up, he would succeed.
The part that terrified Hikara the most was informing the chosen one of his final test, especially when he was completely oblivious and currently celebrating what they thought was the end of it all.
Her job truly was dreadful, she decided. And she was a terrible, terrible person for needing to break up their happy celebrating. But it needed to be done. She had an obligation to helping Ash in any way possible, just as it was his duty to save the world one last time.
And the world would most definitely need saving just one last time.
A/N: Whoa! Finally finished! So, so sorry for the long wait, but I really wanted everything to be perfect and start leading the story into the sequel. Whilst writing this, I realized how much I really enjoy writing about Mari's character. I think one of the main reasons for this is because I think I may have inadvertently mirrored her after my own personality – sarcastic, impatient, and always needing to get the last word in – but I love her! Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the little CCS moment I stuck in there. I really spent a lot of time on that particular part cause I think they really deserved it after taking a backseat to Ash and Misty's love. Anyway, hope you enjoyed and now do me a huge favor and gimme a nice little review, yeah? Thanks guys! AAML for life!