1st A/N: The X's are pagebreaks. FF DocManager seems to hate me.

2nd A/N: This is so inexcusably late, I can't even begin to repent. A year is downright unacceptable. And yet, here it is—the final, longest, and (in my opinion) most full-filling chapter of Frostbite.

This isn't a Fairytale, this is Life

"Get back into the world. Go back to coordinating. You've probably heard this before, but you can't change the past. But you are worth more than you think you are. You deserve happiness as much as everyone else does. Don't doubt it for a minute."

X X X

Early spring in Twinleaf town was especially beautiful. Rolling out of bed on the morning of March 2nd, light filtered through Dawn's bedroom, casting something of a halo around her. She pulled off a few layers; the night was cold, but warmth came with morning. Tense as she usually was when she woke up, she stretched and shook herself out, walking out of her room. That morning, she jumped in the shower. Her hair—which had lately been a nest that would go a week without shampoo—was washed and combed. She made a point to wash her face and shave her legs for the first time in weeks; and, stepping out of the shower, the mirror told no lies.

Before Dawn's eighteen birthday, every Coordinating magazine in the country dubbed her as the "hottest girl on the field." Her hair was pin straight and glossy, her laser white smile plastered across her face constantly, her makeup always done . . . and she didn't leave anything to be desired when it came with flaunting her body, either. She liked attention. She liked to look good. And, at the height of her affairs with Ash, Barry, Paul and Kenny, everything superficial was given an even greater importance.

Looking in the mirror now, she faced what she'd done to herself. This wasn't her at her worst, without a doubt—all of the self-realization and emotional growth Dawn had done since she saw Zoey put her back on the right track, at least a little. She'd gained some weight back, and had gotten more exercise and sleep and sunshine. But three weeks worth of a half-assed effort to pull herself together didn't cover up any battle scars.

Her skin had regained some color, but it was still a sickly pallid shade. She could see her ribs, and skin hung where it was, a mark of how badly her body craved real exercise, the kind that couldn't be accomplished staying inside. A few shameful scars from her darkest weeks now marked her arms.

Today's the day everything changes, she thought as she combed through her hair again, running a hand through hair that—though not as glossy as it was before—held some familiarity. She dug around in one of her bathroom drawers, forgetting where she kept her makeup. Today was her today to clean herself up. It was her day to test just how much she'd grown since Zoey had seen her.

It didn't take her long to get ready; a swipe of mascara here, concealer there, some lipgloss. Not half as much makeup as she'd used to wear, anyway. She braided her hair, and decided after looking at her ends to trim an inch off the bottom. The old Dawn always had her hair done at a salon, and would've never trusted herself with cutting her own hair. But the new Dawn didn't mind. The new Dawn was older, wiser, and didn't need any more attention.

She'd gotten enough of that to last a lifetime.

As she sat down to eat breakfast that morning, negative thinking kept trying to get under her skin. You're not ready for this. You're not ready to return to the world. You don't have your life back together. You never will.

But Dawn had done a lot of thinking over those past two months. The silence of her apartment was trapping her, and she didn't want to be a prisoner to herself and to what she'd done.

I'm moving on, she said, interrupting a stream of negative thoughts. I have to, and I want to. I can't keep beating myself up about what I've done for forever. I deserve a second chance, and I'm not going to take advantage of it.

Reaching the door, her hand froze on the knob, and at the same time she couldn't bear the idea of leaving her apartment and staying in it. But she'd thought the moment over so many times in her head, so that the second she lost feeling in her hand, she regained it without much thought.

She opened the door and flung herself back into the world, all in celebration for her nineteenth birthday.

X X X

Walking into the contest hall that day filled Dawn up with a feeling of comfort and home and happiness and just about everything she'd been deprived of in the past year. She loved coordinating as much as the next person did, but god, she never realized how much she'd missed it. And when each and every one of Pokémon ran up and tackled her the minute she caught their eyes, she knew she'd never leave her home again.

Wake-up. Train. Eat. Breathe. Sleep. That became Dawn's regiment, day in and day out. For every hour of training she'd lost in the past year, she would make up with another two. She \ learned soon enough that Pokémon were nothing like men. It seemed like such an obvious fact. Then again, she hadn't been around too many Pokémon since her last Grand Festival.

In the heat of a contest (or a battle, for that matter), Dawn would find herself thinking of the four men in her life. Why, she didn't exactly know. But for some reason, thinking about them kept her going. She guessed it was funny, the fact that she'd been able to flip something that'd broken her into something that made her strong.

"I can't believe she's back here."

"She should've stayed on her home in Whore Island."

"She did Ash Ketchum! Isn't he engaged?"

"Such a drama queen . . ."

Dawn could've dealt without the added cattiness other coordinators gave her. The media, surprisingly, wasn't the biggest mudslinger. It didn't take her long to find out that Ash and Misty were in the process of tying the knot, and it seemed like the public wanted to shield themselves from anything that would ruin the chemical couple dynamic going on between Kanto's most sought after gym leader and best-looking idiot. But amongst serious coordinators, people talked. Girls talked, and guys talked. And, yes, Dawn was ridiculed. But like every other person in the world, Dawn had the right to remain silent. She didn't owe anyone an explanation.

There was one person, though, that Dawn felt like she did.

Barry walked into the Jubilife Contest Hall one blustery April morning, and instantaneously, whispers went throughout the room and all eyes were on them. Dawn felt herself turn beet red, not wanting another Jewelry Store fiasco. Barry, however, seemed almost as surprised to see her as she did to see him.

"Shit," she muttered. She turned to her Empoleon. "If I don't have the balls to say this, you better make sure I regret it later."

Empoleon, sensing her nerves, crossed his arms in a way that made Dawn feel like she was being reprimanded for not walking over to talk to Barry soon enough. She took a deep breath as she crossed the Hall, all eyes on her back.

"Hey."

Barry looked up, somewhat startled, somewhat . . . scared. "Hi."

"What're you doing here?"

His face flushed. "Training," he said. "If I'd known you'd be here, I wouldn't have come, believe me."

Dawn let out something of a sad sigh. His words had none of the spite they did before, and Dawn could tell he was more upset than anything else.

"Yeah, well, I don't really blame you."

Barry looked away from her, as if his shoes were suddenly the most interesting thing in the world. She didn't see the same Barry she'd seen in the Jewelry store.

"I'd say that I owe you an apology," she started. "But I've already given you one. Multiple times." Though he wasn't looking at her, Dawn could see his face go red. "I hurt you, but you hurt me too."

"Zoey told me about seeing you," he said. "She said you were a mess."

"I've . . . gotten stuff together since then," Dawn said carefully. She searched his expression. "And you? How've you been?"

Barry looked at her like felt like lashing out would be the easiest, most right thing in the world to do. Instead, he offered her a really small, almost emotionless smile. But still, it was there.

"Better, now," he said. "I thought I'd broken you."

"For a while there, you did."

"But you're better."

"But I'm better."

He paused, thinking for a second. "Did hurting me ride on your conscience?" he asked.

"Did hurting me ride on yours?"

"Don't answer a question with a question," he said.

Dawn took a deep breath. "Yes, it did. A lot. But I loved you, Barry. And by hurting you I was hurting a part of me. You hated me, and . . . I guess I kind of hated myself."

She wanted him to say that he never hated her, and that he never could. But this wasn't a storybook, and Dawn knew better. She knew there'd be some loose ends.

"Yeah, for a while I did. But I don't want to hate you, Dawn," he said. Now it was his turn to search her expression. He paused, then said, "And I don't think I have to anymore."

Dawn felt her heart lift. Things were far from fixed between her and Barry, and she knew that. But an angry Barry was one Dawn didn't want to know or think about—that was a Barry she couldn't wrap her head around. There would always be a divide between them, and she knew it. But now, she knew that Barry wasn't the villain anymore. Neither of them were.

As she turned on heel to walk away, she heard something come out of Barry's mouth. It was so quiet, she'd wonder later if she'd imagined it. But still, there it was, that one thought that made all the difference.

"I forgive you."

X X X

As the weather warmed and as Coordination became a bigger part of her life, Dawn would find herself happier, and feeling fuller.

It was on a sunny day at the end of April that she woke up to one new voicemail.

"Dawn, it's Paul. Listen, I was an ass. I shouldn't have done what I did." She heard a snort. "We shouldn't have done what we did. But it's too late now, and I don't think there's any reason . . . I don't see why we should . . ." he sounded frustrated with himself, stumbling over his words in typical Paul-fashion. "We should forget this happened. We should go back to the way things were before. So don't be surprised if I act like we're enemies when I see you, because I think that all of this time, we really were."

The line went dead, and Dawn stared the receiver of her phone, not knowing whether to be upset or . . . relieved.

She hadn't heard from Paul in weeks, and all she got from him was a voicemail saying he was sorry—but not really. She'd always thought that Paul never really knew who he was falling in love with, and that he had the Dawn in his head as someone completely different from the real Dawn. She'd made a lot of mistakes, and she had many regrets, but there was one thing she knew for sure. Paul was her biggest regret. There was never any love, just the idea of it.

They were always enemies.

"What a relief," Dawn decided.

X X X

Dawn—

Sending this invitation was my idea, not Ash's.

We don't expect you to come, and it would be something of a relief if you didn't. I'm telling you this because you were honest with me, and now it's my turn to be honest with you. I was angry for a while, but I've gotten over what happened with you and Ash. Because, when you really love someone, you make sacrifices for them and forgive them. Remember that.

I sincerely hope that one day you two will be able to forgive each other and yourselves. An eight year friendship shouldn't go to waste.

-Misty

Holding a white wedding invitation from Ash and Misty felt heavy in Dawn's hands. She'd wondered at first if this was Ash's idea of a sick joke, a way to stab her in the back and make her feel bad. And then she read Misty's note, the last person in the world she'd expect to be sympathetic to any degree.

"The fuck?" was all Dawn could think to say.

She sat at her table that night, an iced tea in one hand and a wedding invitation from one of her former lovers in the other. Of the four guys she'd been with, she hadn't expected to make amends with any of them, much less Ash. He was the one that had used her from the get-go, and she was the one that had nearly destroyed his and Misty's relationship. He must've done something pretty drastic to make up for that, Dawn thought, flipping the invitation over in her hand.

A part of her was angry that Ash hadn't written the note himself. But, then again, she should've been happy she'd heard from them at all.

An eight year friendship shouldn't go to waste.

Her heart raced over that line every time she read it. Misty was right. No matter how far in deep it her and Ash had gotten, she couldn't forget the time of her life when he'd been one of her greatest, most reliable friends. Ash knew her better than some of her best friends in the world—and she knew for a fact that if she hadn't had an affair with him, he would've been there for her.

It would take time, and that she was sure of. But from the sounds of it . . . her and Ash . . . there was just the smallest chance . . .

A loud banging on the door snapped her out of her reverie, and just about made her jump ten feet. Iced tea spilled all out of the glass, dousing her white tank.

"Shit," she exclaimed, rushing to grab a towel. Whoever it was standing outside of her door at ten PM on one of the hottest nights in May was beyond her. She hadn't left air conditioning all day. She groaned, pulling a gray hoodie over her. It was hot as hell out, but she'd kick herself before she answered the door and had someone see pink polka-dot bra.

And, when she saw who was standing at her doorway, she was beyond relieved for that gray hoodie

"Kenny."

Her voice sounded breathless, and that was sure as hell how she felt. She glanced him over, and with the biggest sigh of relief in her life, saw that the man standing in front of her remained unchanged. His hair was still a shaggy, overgrown mess, he still had a build with an uncanny resemblance to Hercules, and his eyes held all of the familiarity she knew before.

"Hi," he said to her.

She didn't really know what to make of the figure standing in the doorway—an old friend, or someone who's heart she'd broken. But what she did know was the old Dawn would've slammed the door right in his face, not wanting to deal with the burst of emotion that was in store for her.

What the new Dawn knew, however, was that she couldn't stand in a fleece hoodie outside in ninety-six degree weather for more than another second.

"Hi, um . . . come in," she said, swinging the door open.

X X X

"Word on the street says you're back to coordinating."

Dawn looked up from pouring him a glass of iced tea. They were sitting down at her kitchen table. "I'm sure that's not all people are talking about."

Kenny pretended not to hear that. "People think you're gonna win this year." Dawn raised an eyebrow. "The Grand Festival. At least, that's only what last years' winners are saying." A smirk crossed his face, and he wondered if Dawn would feed into it.

"I've been training a lot," Dawn said, short and dismissively. Above all things, she should've been thrilled that Kenny had showed up on her doorstep, acting as if the whole nightmare of her affairs hadn't happened. But the idle chit-chat was painful, and the elephant in the room was only getting bigger.

"D'you think you'll go to the contest in—"

"Kenny," Dawn interrupted, "What're you doing?" He looked startled. "Why are you doing this to yourself? I'm pretty sure there's a lot more on your mind than contests right now."

There was a pause. "You're different."

She snorted. "Obviously."

"No, I mean you're . . . stronger, almost. You're facing this."

The room was really quiet for a minute. Dawn's emotional growth wasn't something she'd talked about with anyone. "You're not," she said. "Different, I mean. I can still see the four-year-old with finger paint all over his face."

He laughed, and Dawn felt her heart lift in a way it hadn't for a long time. "I'm glad you've still got a sense of humor." How long had it been since she'd last laughed with someone?

She realized that that's all that had to be said in regards to her emotional growth, and that Kenny wouldn't have pressed any further, and that she didn't have to talk about what she'd been through. Oddly enough though, a part of her wanted to.

"I guess I am stronger," she said. "You know, I let the four of you—" she paused, seeing the expression on Kenny's face, "—excuse me, the three of them choose how happy I was. And that was my fault. I let that happen, because letting someone else make me happy was a lot easier than doing it myself."

She blushed, hardly able to believe the words coming out of her mouth. They were embarrassing, alright, but it felt liberating to finally say them, to say what she'd learned and what had taken her so long to figure out.

"So what's different now?" Kenny asked.

"I guess . . . I don't need a guy to make me happy." She smiled. "I'm a feminist," she drawled out, and hearing it roll off her tongue the way it did sent her and Kenny into another fit of laughter. She'd missed laughing. It felt nice, comfortable—especially with someone like him.

His expression softened then, and he folded his hands almost nervously in his lap. He looked her in the eye and said, "I owe you an apology."

Floored, Dawn could only stare back. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, I'm not. I'm . . .not proud of myself, Dawn."His expression suddenly became un-recognizable, almost . . . angry. "I just stood there as my best friend insulted you and broke you, okay, I did nothing," he exclaimed. "And that was months ago, and it's taken me this long to work up the nerve to talk to you."

"You don't owe me anything," she said, in disbelief. "I'm the one that did all of the messing up—"

"That's not true."

"Kenny, I care about you, and you were the one person I didn't want to hurt, but that didn't stop me from breaking your heart—"

In a motion so fast she almost missed it, Kenny grabbed her hands, holding them in his. "Dawn, you didn't break me. I was upset, but I forgave you. A long time ago. I couldn't forgive myself."

Her mouth hung open, and all she could do was look from their hands into Kenny's face, back and forth until some sense of reason washed over her. She hadn't let anyone hold her or care about her like this since the Jewelry store incident except for Zoey. It was a missed feeling, and for some reason, it felt so right looking into the brown eyes of the boy she'd grown up with them, the one who'd fallen in love with her and the one that had enough forgiveness in his heart for a thousand men.

People say that you know love when it hits you—that you can always tell when you're in love with someone. Dawn would've told them that was a lie when she was eighteen, because she didn't believe her heart was big enough to love someone, and that no one's heart was big enough to love someone like her. But in that moment and on that night in May, holding Kenny's hands, something rang very loud and true in her head.

"You never stopped loving me, did you?"

He offered her a smile, so sincere and tender it made her heart skip a beat. "You can break my heart as much as you want, Dawn, and I'll be waiting." He paused. "It will always be you."

She stared, frozen, as he gave her hands a squeeze and got up to leave. What was this feeling? What was the warm feeling now bubbling inside of her, wanting to get out so fast and desperately? She looked at Kenny's back, which was walking further away from her with every passing second, out the door until God knows when. It was then she realized that this could be her defining moment, her moment to lay it all on the line and to risk everything for that one person that had always meant something more to her.

She couldn't let him leave, not before she said anything. She wouldn't.

"Kenny," she said, jumping out of her chair and running up to him. And as he turned around and looked her in the eyes, she knew. She knew there had always been a place in her heart for him.

And when she kissed him, all of the warmth filling her up cascaded over, rushing at breakneck speed to a destination that didn't exist, that didn't have to, because all that mattered was here and now and the fact that she'd never felt this feeling before—a feeling most people would never know, and one she knew she'd only feel with one person in her lifetime. And when he kissed her back with all of the softness and longing in the world, she could see so clearly what she'd been missing all along. How the boy with the finger paint on his face had always known her, and could be both her best friend and the love of her life.

And when they pulled away and he looked her in the eyes, he knew. He knew the words she'd been thinking all along, the words that didn't have to be spoken, and the words she hadn't known until now.

It was always you.

Frostbite happens when the weather outside is cold enough, and when we've left ourselves exposed to the harshness for long enough. Get inside quickly, cover up and warm up, and you might recover just fine. But stay in the harshness for any longer, and you risk losing more than you'd want to. A finger, a toe, the tip of your nose . . .

In Dawn's case, maybe even a heart.

Thankfully for her, there was always a source of warmth in her life. And it didn't just come from Kenny, or Zoey, or any one person.

Warmth came from love. The love of a lover, the love of a friend, and the love of herself.

The End

A/N: I can't begin to explain how much of a relief it is to have this fic finished, and how happy I am with how it ended. I hope you guys enjoyed the last and longest chapter of this—it was an absolute joy to write, and though I'll be the first to admit that at times this fic was a chore, I'm really proud of it. It's different from anything I've ever written.

Thank you, so much, to my readers and reviewers—whether this is your first time reading Frostbite or you've been with it from the start, I'm blessed to have so many people embark on Dawn's journey with me.

Blessings,

Vikki