Capture the Heart
Author's note: This story is a continuation based on the Pokemon: Diamond & Pearl anime, starting from after the episode "The Battle Finale of Legend!".
Disclaimer: Pokemon is not my idea and I don't own it or any of the characters, obviously.
Inside the arena next to Lake Valor, a girl stood with her eyes closed behind the curtain. Listening. Taking it all in. Thousands of fans who had come to watch today's contest battle were clapping their hands, stomping their feet, shouting in favor of one competitor or the other in anticipation of the final round of the Sinnoh Grand Festival. No matter how many contests she competed in, that rush of nervousness and excitement before stepping out onto the stage never went away.
She loved that feeling. She lived for it.
Four years to the day after her first Grand Festival run in her home region had ended in defeat, Dawn—now 14 years old—had made it back to the finals at long last.
It had been a long road for the coordinator from Twinleaf Town. She'd journeyed through Sinnoh, Hoenn, Johto and Kanto, meeting a number of new people and new Pokemon along the way. Yet, despite her best efforts, there was one thing that had eluded her throughout: the title of Top Coordinator.
Dawn's difficulty in winning the Ribbon Cup was in stark contrast to the success her mother, Johanna, once enjoyed, but most people knew better than to compare their careers. Pokemon contests were more popular now than they were in the days when Johanna was participating. There were more entrants, and with that came tougher competition. Not that Johanna's achievements were ever discounted, of course. It only meant that Dawn was undeserving of any criticism for not living up to the standards set by her mother.
Part of why Dawn had yet to win a Grand Festival may have also been because of a detour in her career path along the way. Two years into her journey, she had received an invitation to study the ways of being a Pokemon stylist under Hermione, the same stylist she'd first met at the Hearthome Collection contest won by she and her Buneary. It was a difficult decision to make, but it was also a valuable and exciting opportunity that Dawn didn't want to pass up, and thus she accepted.
This Grand Festival was Dawn's first since returning from what wound up being a nearly two-year break while studying. Surprisingly, there wasn't any sign of rust when she initially returned to the stage. In fact, the two years off seemed to have only reinvigorated her. In six contests leading up to this event, she had lost only once. That loss came against the same coordinator who had beaten her in the final round of the Kanto Grand Festival two years prior, her last contest before taking her long break. It may have been fate that the same individual was also her opponent here today.
Taking one last deep breath, Dawn slowly opened her eyes. This was it. Another chance for she and her Pokemon to reach their ultimate goal. This time, for sure, they were going to win!
The curtain opened, and Dawn walked out before the crowd to a thunderous applause.
Marian, the event's announcer, began her introductions. "First, entering from my left, it's Dawn!"
Dawn was a picture of focus as she advanced toward the battle area. Her attire—an ensemble she had debuted in the opening round of this Grand Festival—was something she had designed herself several months earlier, and it was quite different from what she had worn in past years. It was made up of a slim dress of light blue color that was tied at the hip by a white sash, along with a pair of white high-heels for footwear. From the thigh down, the dress was slit on the right side, both for style and for better mobility. Dawn's hair, apart from the bangs covering her forehead, was tied back into a ponytail with a white ribbon. The ponytail was then curled and draped over her left shoulder, hanging down to the abdomen area over the front of her dress.
There were two real eye-catchers when it came to Dawn's self-designed work. The first was the unusual sleeves, which were detached from the rest of the garment. Pure white in color, the sleeves were tied just above the elbows and ran all the way to the wrists. What really made them noticeable, however, was that the fabric also hung down over a foot from the bottom of Dawn's arms. It actually extended far enough down that when Dawn's arms were at her sides, the sleeves almost reached her feet.
The second attraction of the dress was the pair of white imprints on the lower left side of its back. Those imprints resembled two sunflowers, one roughly twice as large as the other. It was an inspired idea that had popped into her mind while thinking about someone special to her. Someday, Dawn had thought while trying on the garment for the first time, she hoped she would get the chance to show that special someone the dress that she had designed for this event.
It was a more mature look than the dresses adorned with frills and bows she once wore, but that wasn't the reason for the change in attire. More so than that, it was to show that she had changed during her break from competition. That she now possessed a greater determination than ever before. That the result of her last Grand Festival in Kanto wouldn't be the same as this one. That this time, she wouldn't lose to him.
Dawn looked to the other side of the stage, fixing her eyes on the person entering opposite from her.
"And entering from my right," Marian continued, "...it's Drew!"
Drew, already a Top Coordinator, had been the bane of Dawn's contest life from the moment they'd met. Six times they had faced each other and six times Drew had come out on top. Two of those battles were in Grand Festivals, including the finals of Dawn's last Grand Festival in Kanto.
The confident boy's dark green hair was slightly longer than it had been the last time Dawn had faced him. His outfit of choice was a black suit with shimmering purple trim and a red rose pinned to the left chest area. There was a smug look on his face, and Dawn was perfectly aware of why that was. Drew had her number, and he knew it all too well.
The four judges, Mr. Contesta, Mr. Sukizo, Nurse Joy, and Fantina, were seated and ready to go as Dawn and Drew reached their positions on the stage. Unlike the last time Dawn had competed here, the retractable roof was currently open, as it always was when the Wallace Cup took place in the stadium. It was a change that was tested last year to liven up the atmosphere more, and the event's organizers approved of the results. Contests under the sky were no problem for either Dawn or Drew, both of whom had competed in such a fashion numerous times before. This time, they would just be doing it on a bigger stage.
"You can do it, Dawn!"
"I love you, Drew! Good luck!"
The crowd was full of energy and voicing their support for both coordinators, but Dawn had the background noise tuned out. She wanted this win so badly she could taste it. She knew that her mother was sitting in the front row, watching live in person. Hermione had also said that she would be watching on television from Hearthome City. And Dawn hoped that somewhere, wherever in the world they might be, one other person was watching as well.
"One more time. Eh, Dawn?" Drew said, flashing the other coordinator a cocky smirk.
Dawn exhaled calmly as she continued to stare across the stage at Drew. "One more time," she whispered. Even if Drew couldn't hear it, Dawn knew he could read her lips.
Marian brought her microphone within speaking range again. The competitors were ready. The judges were ready. The fans in attendance were ready. It was time to start the battle. "Five minutes on the clock," she shouted, "...and begin!"
With those words, Dawn tossed her two pokeballs high into the air. "Piplup, Dragonair, spotlight!"
The ball capsules and seals Dawn had used formed a pair of brilliantly shining angel's wings that opened up to reveal the two Pokemon before bursting into a shower of white sparkles. The choice of Piplup was a no-brainer for Dawn. It was her first Pokemon—the one that had been with her from the beginning—and she wanted it to be a part of this battle no matter what. Dragonair, a truly majestic creature, was the evolved form of a Dratini that she had befriended during her last journey through the Kanto region. It was a powerful Pokemon that had adapted well to the contest environment. With its ability to fly and a much greater body size than Piplup, there was always a great amount of potential for some very unique combinations with its smaller ally.
Now it was Drew's turn to unveil his Pokemon. "Roserade, Chandelure, let's go!"
A red rose that initially hid the Pokemon from view exploded into a flurry of red specks of light, and the eager pair took their positions on the field. Roserade had been a favorite of Drew long before he received the title of Top Coordinator, and that hadn't changed. As for Chandelure, it was as rare a sight in Sinnoh as Dawn's Dragonair. It was once just a Litwick that Drew had picked up on a trip to the Unova region. With some training and the assistance of a Dusk Stone, it later evolved into a Lampent and then into a Chandelure. Naturally, Drew had done a masterful job of utilizing its unusual abilities in contests since acquiring the Pokemon.
The stage was set and the clock running. Dawn was going to see if she and her Pokemon had what it took, both to beat Drew and to take home the Ribbon Cup.
"Piplup, Dragonair," Dawn looked to her Pokemon, "...let's do our best, and let's win this! I believe in you!"
Most everyone in the vicinity of the Valor lakefront was attending the final round of the Grand Festival, leaving the rest of the area unusually quiet. There was a certain woman who wasn't watching the contest battle between Dawn and Drew at the moment, though. Instead, she had gone and found herself a nice patch of grass that overlooked the lake—an ideal spot for a quick nap. And thus, with her hat pulled down over her eyes and her slumbering Arcanine serving as her pillow, the righteous Officer Jenny enjoyed some peaceful shuteye...while she was supposed to be on-duty.
"Jenny, do you copy? Come in, please," a male voice sounded over the radio on Jenny's nearby motorcycle.
Abruptly roused from her sleep, the officer let out an irritated grunt. She slapped her hands over her ears, hoping the one trying to get in contact with her would give up after the first try.
"I know you're there, Jenny. Pick up, already," the voice on the radio persisted.
That was enough to get Jenny to sit up. Her eye twitching with annoyance at the disruption, she lazily slid on the hat that had fallen into her lap and stormed over to her bike. "Jenny here. Go ahead," she grumbled into the radio.
"Oh, good. You're awake," the dispatcher on the other end teased the unenthusiastic officer. "The chief would like you to head to the northern lakefront exit."
"Why? Did someone get a flat tire?" Jenny quipped back at him.
"Nothing so exciting, I'm afraid," he answered, sensing her sarcasm. "Traffic will be heavy once the Grand Festival has finished, so you're going there to make sure everyone leaves in an orderly manner. How does that sound?"
The grimace Jenny now wore said it all. Still, an order was an order. "Wonderful," she muttered. "I got it. I'll head over there."
Jenny slammed the radio back into place. Still bent down over her bike, she turned her body slightly so that she was staring out at the lake. Arcanine, who was stretching its legs after its nap, could hear a soft sigh escape from its trainer's lips. Jenny's transition to normal police duty had never gone as smoothly as she'd hoped and expected. It was frustrating for her on a number of levels. The rest of her family was so good at it, so why did she feel so out of place?
Grudgingly, Officer Jenny fixed her hat so that it was on tight and proper, and then mounted her bike. "Traffic control," a scowl appeared on her face. "Somewhere out there, she's laughing at me."
Then, suddenly, movement. At that moment, the policewoman quickly spun her head to the side and peered out toward the rocky cliffs overlooking the lakefront. What was it? She could have sworn she'd seen something up there out of the corner of her eye. Something blue...no, red? But there wasn't anything there now. Was she just imagining it?
Jenny's eyes kept darting around the cliffs for another two minutes, just trying to catch a glimpse of anything that might stand out. There was nothing to see, though. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. That had become the story of Jenny's life. The only thing she saw in front of her was a stint of routine traffic duty.
Hanging her head in resignation, the officer started up her bike and slapped her hands onto the handlebars. "Come on, Arcanine. Let's go."
Jenny sped off down the road, dejected, and her Arcanine followed alongside her.
Oblivious to the departing officer, something now did begin to move up on those rocky cliffs. It was a Pokemon, and a large one at that. The creature stepped closer to the ledge and looked down on the open arena where the contest battle was taking place. Anxious to fly, it spread its wings fully, but was soon reminded to wait by a black-gloved hand that was placed upon its head.
The Pokemon growled contently as it nuzzled its head against the hand of its master. It wasn't time to fly yet, but soon. Very soon.
"Hold on, Drew! You're almost there!"
"Hang in there! Don't give up! Come on, Dawn!"
Inside the arena, the crowd was captivated as the contest battle between Dawn and Drew roared toward its conclusion.
Piplup was riding atop the soaring Dragonair, both of them surrounded by a blue orb of light. Piplup's flipper shined a bright white as it prepared to use its Brick Break attack in tandem with the powerful Dragon Rush of its partner.
On the other side of the field, a round mass of dark purple energy grew between Roserade and Chandelure. The two Pokemon were combining their Shadow Ball moves together to create a super-powered ghost-type attack that might be able to stop their incoming opponents.
"Roserade, Chandelure..." Drew called out to his Pokemon team with a great look of confidence, "...fire!"
At Drew's command, the enlarged Shadow Ball was shot straight at the approaching Pokemon duo.
"Break through it, you two! You can do it!" Dawn shouted encouragement to her own Pokemon.
Dragonair and Piplup, urged on by their trainer's words, crashed into the dark mass of energy. The resulting blast shook the stage and brought an already pumped up crowd to its feet. Which attack had overpowered the other? Within moments, that answer became clear.
From out of the smoke appeared Dragonair and Piplup, only now they were flying backwards. Dragonair tried to regain its bearings as it maintained its flight. Piplup, having been knocked off of the larger Pokemon's head, fell down to the stage and landed flat on its back. The double Shadow Ball had won out, successfully halting Dragonair's advance.
Now, only one minute remained in the battle. Drew, who already had a slight lead in points, had gained some extra breathing room after his Pokemon came out on top in the last exchange.
"That Drew, he always has an answer," Dawn thought, feeling every bit of the pressure her opponent exuded.
Despite her current predicament, there was no panic shown by the young coordinator. This situation wasn't unexpected, after all. Drew had always had the edge late in their contest battles. Now it was time for Dawn to prove that things weren't the same as they had always been.
This was it. All or nothing. Time to go for it.
"Roserade, use Petal Dance on Dragonair!" Drew instructed his oft-used Pokemon, looking to take advantage of the situation before his opponent had recovered. He then turned to the newer addition to his team. "And Chandelure, use Will-O-Wisp on Piplup!"
Both of Drew's Pokemon began to spin rapidly in unison as they prepared for their attacks, a touch of style that wasn't lost on the judges. The first to be unleashed was Roserade's Petal Dance, which sent a torrent of pink flower petals flying up toward the airborne Dragonair.
Dawn was watching everything closely. She and her Pokemon needed to play this just right if they were going to pull off a victory. "Dragonair, use Agility to dodge the petals! Piplup, use Whirlpool!"
With its speed boosted by using Agility, Dragonair not only slid around the incoming petals, but made it look easy. Meanwhile, down on the stage, Piplup tilted its beak into the air and used its Whirlpool attack to create a rotating funnel of water. The spinning Chandelure, now ready to use its Will-O-Wisp, fired a series of light blue fireballs at the small Pokemon. That attack would prove futile, however, as the fire was quickly enveloped by water when Piplup sent its Whirlpool flying Chandelure's way.
The successful defense against Drew's attacks lowered the point total of the green-haired coordinator, cutting the deficit that Dawn now had to make up.
"Good job, Piplup! Now ride that Whirlpool!" Dawn called out to her Pokemon.
As instructed, Piplup jumped onto the raging mass of water as it closed the distance on Chandelure. Dawn felt like her heart was about to beat out of her chest while she waited to see what would happen. This was the moment of truth.
"Hmph. Too easy," Drew gloated. Calm and poised as ever, he snapped his fingers in the direction of the Pokemon with dancing flames on its body. "Chandelure, use Psychic to stop that Whirlpool!"
The entire mass of water slowed to a halt as it became surrounded by a light blue glow, but not before Piplup escaped the situation, using the water to propel itself into the air. That little detail wasn't of much concern to Drew, who was about to watch his point lead increase again. With the water under its control, Chandelure made the Whirlpool burst into a shower of illuminated droplets—a display that certainly impressed the judges.
Drew looked across the stage at the opposing coordinator, hoping to see a somber, defeated expression on her face. What he saw was no look of defeat, though. Quite the opposite, in fact. Dawn raised her head and looked upward, all the while smiling as if she were the one in control.
Curious about Dawn's inexplicably positive attitude, Drew followed her line of sight into the air. What he would see up above the stage was confusing at first, but that confusion quickly changed to concern. Piplup, still hanging in the air after its jump from the Whirlpool attack, was right in the path of a speeding Dragonair. The two Pokemon made contact, Piplup sticking its landing atop Dragonair's head, and they both set their sights directly on Chandelure.
"Now, Piplup! Hydro Pump!" Dawn shouted.
Right on cue, Piplup opened its beak and fired a powerful stream of water down at Drew's Pokemon.
"Chandelure, dodge it!" Drew yelled out with urgency, but there was no time for such action to take place. Aided by the speed of Dragonair, Piplup's Hydro Pump reached Chandelure so quickly that it couldn't avoid it. The blast of water crashed into and overwhelmed the Pokemon that had a weakness to water-type attacks. Chandelure would tumble along the stage floor, finally coming to a stop with its body weakened to the point that it was just barely levitating off the ground.
And the assault wasn't over.
Piplup sprung off of Dragonair's head and back into the air, but the dragon-type Pokemon continued onward. A stream of water now spiraling around its tail, Dragonair pulled up just as it neared the ground and whipped its lower body into Chandelure, knocking Drew's Pokemon high above the stage with an Aqua Tail attack.
"Chandelure, no!" Drew clenched his fists.
As Chandelure rose into the air, Dragonair flew up alongside it. Its body twirling round and round, Dragonair became surrounded in yellow sparks that reflected a beautiful light off of the remaining water droplets from the Aqua Tail.
Seeing that his Chandelure was in serious trouble, Drew readied to send his other Pokemon to the rescue. "Roserade, use Solar Beam on Dragonair! Hurry!"
The flowers on the end of Roserade's arms began to glow a golden color as the Pokemon held them above its head, gathering energy for its strongest grass-type move. Uninterrupted, it may well have been able to stop Dragonair. Unfortunately for Roserade and its trainer, it wouldn't be afforded such a luxury.
Roserade's eyes widened as Piplup, the other half of Dawn's team, suddenly dropped down in front of it, beak open and head reared back in preparation of uncorking an attack of its own.
"Do it, Piplup! Blizzard!" Dawn excitedly urged her Pokemon on.
The crowd couldn't believe what they were seeing as Roserade found itself being barraged by a snowstorm before it could even gather the energy necessary for its Solar Beam. Weak to ice-type moves, Roserade's body began to freeze over, and the golden glow faded from its flowers.
Well above what was happening on the ground, Dragonair then unleashed a huge blast of electricity into Chandelure with its Thunder attack. Half of the stage glowed a bright yellow while the other half was immersed in snow from Piplup's Blizzard. It was an incredible sight for both the fans and the judges.
When the attacks ceased, there was a moment of stunned silence from everyone watching. Chandelure, hit with three consecutive devastating attacks, fell to the stage unconscious. Roserade, caught completely off-guard by Piplup's Blizzard, was frozen in a block of ice.
Shockingly, the battle was over.
"U-unbelievable! What an incredible combination!" Marian's voice echoed throughout the arena. "Ladies and gentlemen, Roserade and Chandelure are both unable to battle! That means the winner of this year's Grand Festival is Dawn!"
Not one person wasn't impressed by what they'd just seen as the crowd erupted in applause for the second-generation Pokemon coordinator. Johanna would join along with them, having to wipe a tear from her eye as she stood and clapped for her daughter. She knew better than anyone how hard Dawn had worked over the years just for this moment.
Amidst the celebration, Dawn still wasn't certain that what had just happened was real. Her mouth agape, she looked up to the stadium's large video screen to confirm it for herself. There were the pictures of herself, Piplup and Dragonair, along with a banner that read, "Winner." It was real, all right. She'd bested Drew, and she'd reached the top of the mountain by doing so. She'd finally become a Top Coordinator.
Dawn dropped to her knees as a pair of cannons at each side of the stage fired blasts of confetti into the air. "We did it," she mouthed breathlessly, watching Piplup and Dragonair coming toward her. "We did it!"
While the Grand Festival's elated victor embraced her Pokemon, Drew looked on from the opposite side of the stage. He was absolutely speechless at what had just taken place. A look of disbelief frozen on his face, the coordinator from Hoenn tried to piece together what had happened in his mind. He had been in control of the battle, right? So how in the world had he ended up losing? Where had he gone wrong?
For Drew, it all came back to Piplup's Whirlpool and that strangely pleased expression Dawn wore after Chandelure had done away with the attack. Right after that was where the combination between Piplup and Dragonair had started. That entire sequence...it was clearly something they had planned out and practiced beforehand. Yes, that was it. No doubt about it. Drew had thought that he was increasing his point lead by having Chandelure use Psychic on the water funnel, but that wasn't the case. All he was really doing was taking Dawn's bait. The Whirlpool attack was never meant to hit Chandelure in the first place. It was only intended to serve as a decoy that would distract both Chandelure and its trainer long enough for Piplup and Dragonair to come together and work their magic.
Now that he understood, Drew had to chuckle to himself. "She got me," an amused smile crossed his face. Accepting his defeat, he turned to leave. "Well done, Dawn."
Hearing his name called, Drew stopped and looked back over his shoulder to where Dawn was getting back to her feet.
"That was a great battle, Drew," Dawn complimented her difficult opponent's effort.
"Classy as ever," Drew silently admired her attitude. "Next time we face each other, we'll be doing it as equals, Top Coordinator."
Drew gave a brief wave of his hand and walked off, conceding the stage to the winner.
Nodding her head, Dawn smiled as she watched him leave. "I can't wait."
Now came the time for the presentation of the Ribbon Cup. Dawn stood excitedly at center stage with Dragonair at her left side and Piplup at her right. Fantina, as was her custom duty, stepped forth to hand the trophy over to the winner...or so everyone thought. In an odd turn of events, she instead stopped and backed away.
"Non, non," Fantina wagged her finger, drawing plenty of curious looks from the others on the stage. "I sink zere is someone bettere to give zis to you."
The eccentric gym leader spun around and walked over to the front row of the audience, where a very familiar figure happened to be sitting. "Johanna," she extended a hand toward Dawn's mother, "...would you do ze honor?"
It was a request met with unanimous approval from everyone, including Johanna herself. "Fantina, I would love to," she agreed.
What followed was a touching moment between mother and daughter. Dawn was practically in tears as Johanna came up to her carrying the trophy. She was Dawn's inspiration to become a Pokemon coordinator to begin with, so to have her present the Ribbon Cup was the greatest honor possible. The new Top Coordinator accepted her prize and then shared a tender hug with her mother, who made sure to let Dawn know how proud she was of her. Dawn would thank Johanna and then thank Piplup and Dragonair as well before waving to the crowd as an acknowledgment that she appreciated all of their support.
"There she is, the newest winner of the Sinnoh Grand Festival! And many thanks, of course, to all of the coordinators who participated in the event and gave us a competition we'll never forget," Marian spoke into the microphone afterward. "Now, how about a quick word with our winner?"
The fans in attendance began to quiet down so that they could hear what Dawn had to say as Marian approached her.
"Dawn," the event's announcer began, "...first of all, I have to ask, how does it feel to finally hold that Ribbon Cup?"
"I...I can't even describe it," Dawn laughed, and the crowd joined with her. "It was always my dream to be a Top Coordinator after watching Mom, so for all of my Pokemon and I to put in so much hard work over the years and finally do it...it's just incredible. I'm so happy right now, and so proud of my Pokemon."
After some brief applause, Marian continued. "You took almost two years off from competition and then had to face Drew in the final round here today, the same coordinator who defeated you in your last Grand Festival appearance in the Kanto region. How nervous were you knowing that you had to go up against him?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm always nervous about contest battles no matter who I'm facing," Dawn had to admit, "...but especially against Drew. He's a really great coordinator, and for us to earn the Ribbon Cup by finally getting our first win against him, that definitely makes this extra special."
"Well, Dawn, you've joined your mother among the ranks of Top Coordinators, and I hear you're starting to turn some heads in the Pokemon fashion industry as well," Marian said, drawing some more laughter from the young girl. "You must feel like you're on top of the world. Is there any way life could be any better right now?"
This time, Dawn didn't immediately answer. Was there any way life could be better? Of course there was. There was something she'd wanted for what felt like an eternity. Waiting and waiting, wondering when she would have it again. Wondering if she would have it again.
Dawn freed one hand from her trophy and brushed her fingertips against the silver earring she wore. Then, a yearning smile playing on her lips, she answered, "Just one..."
Whether on the stage or in the crowd, everyone took notice as the startling sound of a beast's roar filled the stadium, effectively cutting Dawn's interview short. Fans, judges, and coordinators alike all turned their attention to the location of the interruption: the building's open roof.
It descended swiftly. Marian and the judges had to scatter from where they stood, lest they be knocked over by it. Dawn, on the other hand, didn't budge a single inch. She stood firm, even as she watched it land a mere few feet in front of her and felt the rumble from the impact in her legs. Its red wings stretched out on either side of its large body, the creature immediately locked eyes with the girl standing before it.
That creature was Salamence.
"D-Dawn, be careful!" Johanna warned her daughter.
Dawn wasn't afraid, though. Rather than back away, she took a step closer to the imposing Pokemon as a nervous silence fell over the crowd. She and Salamence continued to stare at one another, the Grand Festival and her victory just now quickly becoming among the last things on Dawn's mind. This Salamence...she had to know for sure.
"A-...are you...?" the young girl stuttered, too shocked to even form a proper sentence.
Before Dawn was able to finish her question, Piplup stepped up and appeared at her side. "Pip?" it spoke to Salamence.
The winged beast gave Piplup a brief nod before bringing its focus back to the smaller Pokemon's trainer. It advanced forward, close enough that it could use its head to nudge Dawn in her stomach. The move was strong enough that it knocked Dawn back a step, something that didn't help the concerns of everyone watching the bizarre scene unfold. Now that Salamence was sure it had her attention, it lowered its body closer to the ground and used its head to gesture toward its back.
"Is it...telling me to get on?" Dawn silently wondered to herself.
"Piplup pip pii piplup!" Piplup chirped at its trainer. It was pointing one of its flippers at Salamence in a very animated fashion.
Dawn knew what it meant. Her Pokemon was trying to tell her the same thing that she believed Salamence was. Then...this was really...
"Mom!" Dawn's loud tone surprised her mother as she turned to her. The new Top Coordinator took her Ribbon Cup and held it out to Johanna. "Mom, I have to go! Please, will you take care of this for me?"
Johanna wasn't quite certain what was going on, but seeing the urgency in her daughter's eyes right now, she somehow understood. Not asking any questions, she gladly took the trophy from Dawn's hands. "All right, I'll keep it safe until you get back. Go do what you need to do, Dawn," she said with an accepting smile.
Dawn gave her mother an earnest, "Thank you," and then hurried to retrieve her Pokemon. Dragonair would be first as she held out its pokeball. "Dragonair, return!"
Once one Pokemon was put away, Dawn scooped the other up into her arms. "Come on, Piplup!" she said, making a beeline for the waiting Salamence. Her dress wasn't the most fitting thing to be wearing for the ride, but Dawn managed to climb up onto the large Pokemon's back and position herself securely nonetheless. "Okay, Salamence, let's go!"
Dawn didn't want to wait even a second more. She'd already been waiting long enough.
With the perplexed crowd looking on, Salamence flapped its wings and took to the air in a flash, carrying Dawn and Piplup right out through the top of the arena.
"Well...umm...it seems today's winner had to leave us," Marian tried to explain to the audience, "...so, I suppose that wraps things up for the Grand Festival! Thank you all for coming, and I hope we'll see you next time!"
And that was that for the Grand Festival. While the fans began to file out and Fantina tried to press Johanna for information on what had just happened, Dawn and Piplup were high above Lake Valor and speeding to the north aboard Salamence. Dawn didn't know how far they were going, but she hoped it wasn't much further. The anticipation for what she believed may be waiting at the end of the flight was agonizing.
Four years. Even though it felt now like they had passed in the blink of an eye, it really had been a long time. Dawn had thought about her a lot over that time. Where was she? What was she doing? Was she okay? When more time had passed, Dawn had to fight off thoughts that she might have been forgotten by that person. But then, right around the same time she would catch herself thinking such things, someone would deliver a single sunflower to her, or she would find one waiting for her wherever she was staying on that particular night. It didn't matter what town she was in or even what region. Whether it was Sinnoh, Hoenn, Kanto or anywhere else, those sunflowers would always find their way to her, and she would know then that she was still on that person's mind.
They were nearing the northern shore of the lake now. An area that often had several boats roaming the waters at any given time during the daylight hours was devoid of activity at the moment. As with the rest of the Valor lakefront, those who would otherwise be out on the lake had gone to watch the contest battle between Dawn and Drew.
The shore had a number of wooden piers with boats docked beside them, but one pier—which they appeared to be flying toward—was empty. Or was it? As they flew closer, something caught the girl's attention. There was a glimmer of sunlight reflecting off of something on that pier.
Someone was standing there at the end of that structure. It was difficult to see at first because they were dressed completely in black clothing, but there was definitely someone there. The identity of that person wasn't immediately clear, though, as their face was hidden by a black helmet. The visor on that piece of headgear was what the light from the sun had been bouncing off of.
Even as Salamence and its passengers flew directly overhead, that black-clad person continued to stare out at the lake, unmoving. Salamence slowed its momentum until it was only hovering, and then carefully sank to the ground where it made its landing on the shoreline.
Dawn was so fixated on the person at the edge of the pier that it took her a moment to realize that Salamence wasn't in the air anymore. Who was it? Her breathing had escalated. Her heart was beating rapidly. She desperately wanted it to be her, but she couldn't know for sure because of that helmet they wore.
She was going to find out, though. "Stay here, Piplup," she instructed her Pokemon.
Dawn crawled down from Salamence's back and planted her feet on the shore, not once taking her eyes off of that figure by the lake. Then, slowly, she began walking closer to the pier, studying that unknown individual every step of the way. Black shoes. Black coat with long sleeves. Black gloves that covered the entirety of both hands, fingertips included. All that, combined with the helmet, covered every inch of skin on their body. Whoever this person was, their wardrobe looked to be pieced together with the purpose of concealing their identity in mind.
When she heard the sound of wood beneath her feet—a sound letting her know that she'd stepped onto the pier—Dawn stopped. The sleeves from her outfit swayed in the gentle wind as she quietly stared at the back of the person before her. Why weren't they saying anything? Why wouldn't they turn around? Dawn wanted to hear their voice, see their face, something, anything to let her know whether or not the one standing there was the one she'd been waiting for all this time.
"Four years ago," that person's voice—a female voice—finally came from a speaker near the mouth area of their helmet, "...I made a promise with myself. I wouldn't take this helmet off in front of anyone...not until the day I could see you again."
Lifting their arms up, they placed both hands against either side of the helmet and pulled upward. As the protective headgear came off, the woman's short, silver locks of hair fell back into place. Her arms drifted back to her sides, her right hand still gripping the helmet's underside. Then, at last, she turned her body to face the girl looking at her from across the pier.
As her light blue eyes took in the sight of Dawn for a moment, her lips curved upward into a warm smile. "You've grown."
Dawn could see her face now. No more wondering, no more doubts. It was really her, right there in front of her. Nearly coming out of her high-heels, Dawn ran up to the woman and threw her arms around her. "J!"
That reaction was better than J could have ever hoped for. Letting the helmet fall from her hand, she lovingly embraced the girl back. This feeling...it had been so long since she'd felt something like this.
"I missed you so much..." Dawn's muffled voice trembled against the older woman's coat.
Even J, normally so in control of her emotions, couldn't keep a straight face. The warmth of Dawn's body and the calming scent of her hair were things she'd only been able to dream about for the past four years. "I was always so worried about what you would say when this day came," she tried to keep herself from crying. "I thought you might hate me for disappearing, or that maybe you'd found someone else."
"Of course not!" Dawn was emphatic in her dismissal of the idea. "You're the only one I've ever wanted, J."
The once-feared Pokemon hunter couldn't hold her tears in any longer. After hearing those touching, heartfelt words from Dawn, she could feel a pair of them starting to run down her cheeks. "I'm sorry I took so long," she held the younger girl closer. "You have no idea how hard it was for me to stay away from you all this time."
Dawn and J stood quietly now, just letting the wonderful feeling of each other sink in. They'd waited so long for this moment. Both of them.
"Where have you been?" Dawn finally spoke. "Where did you go?"
Trying to put some distance between herself and Dawn all of a sudden, J placed her hands against the girl's shoulders and stepped away. Dawn was reluctant to let go of her after they'd finally been reunited, but she allowed J to back up without much resistance. There must have been a reason for it, after all.
The sound of paper crumpling could be heard as J reached into a pocket on the inside of her coat. When she removed her hand, she produced three newspaper clippings and held them out for Dawn to take. "I want you to see these."
Not sure what to expect, Dawn blinked as she took the clippings from J's grasp. All three of the articles, she noticed, featured pictures of a trainer with one of their Pokemon. The article headlines were similar, too. They were all about trainers whose long lost Pokemon had found their way back home.
"All of them were Pokemon that I had stolen and then sold during my time as a poacher," J explained, very straightforward about her past actions.
"I...remember hearing about this..." Dawn continued to look over the pictures.
"That Ranger girl who pretended to want to join my crew...I knew what she was planning from the beginning. So before she and the others could compromise my base, I copied the information about my clients and stored it away somewhere safe. Then, once my body had healed from everything that happened the night they made their move, I went to work," the silver-haired woman started to think back on everything she'd gone through. "It took a great deal of planning. My clients were wealthy people whose estates all had formidable security systems. I had to fight past them, retrieve the Pokemon and leave without allowing anyone to get a good look at me. If anyone had proof that I was still alive, this entire plan of mine would have been for nothing."
Dawn didn't know what to say as she listened to the dramatic tale. Perhaps most surprising was that, from the sound of things, the Rangers and officers taking over her base was something that J had allowed to happen.
"I did it, though," J said, her voice giving away the pride she held in her accomplishment. "Some of them had already been let go, likely after my clients had grown bored of them, but I was able to free every Pokemon they were in possession of. It took me three years, Dawn, but I did it."
"Three years..." Dawn tried to wrap her mind around the staggering amount of time. "J, just how many Pokemon did you set free?"
"Over one thousand," the black-clad hunter answered.
Dawn's jaw dropped at the sheer number of them. For her to free that many, she must have been working constantly for those three years. "J..."
"There's more," the woman interrupted, reaching into her pocket again. This time, she pulled out only a single newspaper clipping for Dawn to read.
Taking the piece of paper, the first thing that caught the Top Coordinator's eye was a picture of what she believed was J—the helmet was covering her face in the photo, but it appeared to be the same outfit she was wearing right now—shaking hands with a police officer while a man bound by rope sat on the ground next to them. The headline of the article read, "Mysterious bounty hunter nabs another."
"Bounty hunter..." Dawn batted her eyes, "...you're a...bounty hunter?"
"In the Hoenn region, yes. I was never known very well in that area, so there was less chance of anyone realizing who I truly was," J pointed out. "I've spent the last year hunting down wanted criminals there since I finished my work in Sinnoh. My Pokemon and I still get to have our fun, but this time we're on the other side of the law. Honestly, I wasn't sure you would approve of the profession. You should know that the Hoenn police have been very appreciative of our help, though. We're extremely efficient at it, too. After all, no one knows how criminals think better than I do," she allowed herself to smirk slightly.
Even Dawn, stunned as she was by all of this, smiled at J's last remark. "J...I-" she began to say, but she wouldn't get any further. The Pokemon hunter-turned-bounty hunter surprised her by taking hold of her hand all of a sudden and getting down on one knee. "J...?"
"I'm sorry," J apologized, for what Dawn had no idea. "Even though I freed all of the Pokemon that I stole, I didn't keep records of the trainers I'd taken them from in the first place. With some I remembered and was able to deliver them back home, but others I could only take a safe distance from my former clients' estates and hope that they could find their own way back. And even though I did what I could to right my wrongs, freeing them will never make up for the time they lost with their trainers, either," she looked deeply into Dawn's eyes, asking for forgiveness. "I did what I could, Dawn, but...as for whether or not I did enough, you're the only one who can tell me that."
Dawn, blushing from J's act of holding her hand, found it very hard to speak after hearing all of that. She had always wondered what J was up to while they were apart, but she never imagined the woman had done something to this extent. Freeing all of those Pokemon, helping to clean up the crime in Hoenn, it was unbelievable. There was just one thing that she needed to know. "Why?" she asked, grasping J's hand tighter. "Hunting Pokemon was your life, but you gave it up, and then you did all of this. Why? Why did you go through so much?"
J looked up at the girl with pure adoration. "Why, you ask? Because somewhere along the way, I fell in love with someone," she said softly, "...and I decided that I would do anything I had to do in order to be with her."
Love? J...loved her? Those words took Dawn's breath away. There was always so much unclear about the relationship they shared at first, so to hear J make her feelings known to her was almost surreal.
Overjoyed at the revelation, an emotional Dawn dropped down next to J and wrapped her arms around her again. "You have done enough, J! You've done more than enough," she assured the woman. "Just don't ever leave me again. All I want is to stay with the one that I love, too."
J felt a warmth in her heart like she'd never felt before. Nobody had ever said that they'd loved her, not since her parents had passed away. It was a feeling unlike any other, and those words from Dawn alone made her truly happier than she'd ever been in her entire life.
The two of them stayed in each other's arms long enough for both to get their fill. J was the one who then backed away just enough that she could get a good look at Dawn's face and wipe the tears away from her blue eyes. "You know," she said, brushing back the girl's hair, "...the last time I saw you, I tried to do something, but you stopped me."
Dawn knew exactly what J was talking about. That difficult, spur of the moment choice she'd made the last time they were together on the night before her first Grand Festival had brought on more regret than she ever could have imagined. Regret that she'd had to live with every day since.
"So," J spoke, a hopeful look in her eyes, "...is it okay this time?"
As if Dawn's heart wasn't beating fast enough before, now it was racing. It was incredible. She loved this person so much that just the idea of what J was asking had her feeling like this.
Her trembling lips showing the mix of nervousness and desire that was flowing through her, Dawn flashed a smile at the woman, and then gave her answer. "J," she uttered the hunter's name, shaking her head ever so slightly, "...there was no need to even ask."
And there, on that wooden pier overlooking Lake Valor, Dawn leaned forward, closed her eyes and pressed her lips against J's. The initial surprise of J over Dawn's initiative soon faded, and she closed her eyes as well. In that moment, there was no one else in their worlds but each other. It was an electric, magical feeling the likes of which neither of them had ever experienced—one that neither would forget for so long as they lived.
Once their kiss was broken, the two of them held each other close—Dawn's arms wrapped around J's neck, J's hands pressed against Dawn's back. What they'd just shared together was so intense, so amazing that both were left without words for a few seconds afterward.
"You know," J was the first one to speak, her voice shaking, "...that just made every minute of these past four years feel worth it."
Dawn had to laugh to keep herself from crying again. "I think even if I'd waited for you my whole life, that still would have made it worth it."
Not satisfied with just the one taste that they'd shared, their lips came together again. It was shorter this time. Then one more kiss, also brief. Now they were satisfied. The Pokemon coordinator and the bounty hunter pressed their foreheads together, each staring adoringly into the eyes of the one they loved.
"So, Miss Top Coordinator..." J addressed the girl by her new title.
Dawn had to giggle at the reference to her Grand Festival victory. "You saw that, did you?"
"Mhmm," the silver-haired woman purred, "...and I was wondering what your plans were for the immediate future."
"And why is that, Miss Bounty Hunter?" Dawn playfully quirked an eyebrow at her.
"Well," J smirked, "...I was thinking of taking a vacation from work. Maybe go and see the world a bit," she revealed. "It gets a little lonely being in that new ship of mine all by myself, though. So...would you like to come away with me for a while?"
Seeing the world with J? Just the two of them? There wasn't much debate in Dawn's mind about what her answer to that one would be. "Hmm...I did just win the Grand Festival after all that time, and I was always really busy with the whole Pokemon fashion thing before that," she recalled. "Yeah, I think I've earned a vacation. I'm definitely going!"
Dawn's acceptance of her offer had J noticeably excited. "Let's go. Right now," she suggested.
"R-right now?" the younger girl blinked. "But...I should really tell Mom that I'm taking off first. And, of course, I'd like to take the Ribbon Cup with me. Oh, and then there's the things I left in my locker at the stadium. And the stuff back in my hotel room. And-"
"I get it," J cut her off, sighing quietly. "After waiting for four years, I suppose waiting a few more hours won't hurt."
"Sorry," Dawn chuckled. "Could I get a ride back?"
"You really need to ask? Salamence and I will drop you off and wait for you somewhere safe. I'd go with you, but I don't feel like facing Johanna again right now."
"Ahh, right. That."
And so, they had a plan. J picked up her helmet with one arm, then grabbed hold of Dawn's hand with the other. Following J's lead, Dawn smiled as she laced her fingers between those of the other woman, and they began walking back to the other end of the pier where their Pokemon awaited them. Hand-in-hand. Together.
"Once I get my stuff, you'll have to tell me how you got out of your base that day it exploded," Dawn said, recalling an important detail of J's story that she hadn't heard yet.
"Oh, that?" J acted as though it weren't any big deal. "Mmm...it might take some time..."
Shrugging her shoulders, Dawn leaned up against J's arm and held onto it tightly. "No need to worry," she winked up at her. "We've got all the time in the world."
End of Chapter 13