~*Just Fine*~

Some people never really change at all.


Part Two: Head Starts


"Barry!"

He ran as hard as he could until her voice grew fainter and fainter and he couldn't hear a word. He ran until the streets became a little less pristine, probably entering the back alleys, and as he sprinted along the shoreline, he surmised that he had just entered the boatyards. Tall, square warehouses surrounded him on all sides and Barry concentrated on getting good and lost, so Dawn couldn't find him.

He almost slammed into a wall as he turned a corner, slipping on some sea water, but he regained his balance and charged on. His fists were closed firmly at his sides, and his eyes burned inexplicably, along with his chest. Every breath became a horrible labor, and he welcomed the pain because it took over his thoughts.

He didn't have to think about what he had done, where he was, or anything else until he really couldn't take one more step without collapsing. He leaned briefly against a wall, lungs heaving, until he looked up and realized he was alone. The roads were deserted, save for a lone Wingull peering curiously at him from a dock post.

Barry grabbed a rusted lock and yanked it off with a creaky pop, chucking it into the nearby ocean and ducking into the dusty interior of a massive storage shed. His torso continued to ache horribly, and a foggy black cloud ate at the edges of his vision.

He found a space between two ancient crates, gray with age, and plopped himself there. He drew his legs to his chest and buried his head in his arms.

I'm overreacting, he thought at last. I guess. I mean, I don't really want to face Dawn right now but…this is a bit extreme.

He scowled, poking at the ground.

There is definitely something wrong with me, though. It's not healthy for me to see her like that! It's like I'm a Pokémon caught in Attraction or something.

Silence, and of course there would be no answer because he was completely alone in a forgotten world of crumpling ship parts.

It had come out of nowhere, to make matters worse. As if the time between his last encounter with Dawn had strengthened his feelings for her tenfold. It was more than a little disturbing. He could blame it on hormones or something, but it wasn't like it hadn't always been there. It wasn't like it hadn't been waiting beneath the surface like smoldering embers, waiting for something to finally set them alight.

"Darn it," Barry grumbled to himself, rubbing at his orange eyes and leaning back to stare at the ceiling. A Zubat was up there, hanging upside down with its large ears pivoted towards him, but it didn't seem interested in the boy in the slightest.

But she's got such a cute smile…

He blinked, heaved another sigh, and for once didn't mind the fact that he was standing still for longer than thirty seconds.

There was a voice nearby.

His eyes shot open and he realized with a start that he had fallen asleep. But for how long? Even his dreams had been haunted by her…

"Barry!" Someone yelled not far away.

He scowled, reaching towards his belt and tugging off a Pokéball. In a burst of crimson, his Heracross emerged. The Bug-type seemed flummoxed by his order to hold the door closed so no one could get in, but he didn't argue and went to press both of his armored forearms against the thin metal, legs braced for an impending assault.

That's when the boy heard that accursed sound. That stupid, God dang sound.

The static growl of a Luxray. And he knew as well as any other that they could see through walls.

This was followed by the excited bark of a Lucario, and then he heard her footsteps as she raced towards the warehouse, undoubtedly with bright eyes and a relieved smile.

Shoulda known she'd find me eventually.

"Barry? You're in there, aren't you?" All of the teasing bravado she typically displayed during their battles was long gone from her voice. She sounded exhausted and desperate and hurt, and he grimaced involuntarily. "Lucario, is Barry in there?"

"Hmph," agreed the Fighting/Steel-type, his gruff tone almost indistinct passed the walls.

"Barry, please!" The door moved slightly, but Heracross threw his weight against it—and his considerable strength—and it budged no farther.

Go away. He knew it was pointless. She'd get in sooner or later.

"That's it, now I know you're there if Luxray and Lucario say so! Open the door, or I'll have to play dirty!"

No reply. He clamped his mouth shut, rising from his position and stretching cramped muscles. She started to sound really angry now.

"You big stubborn idiot!" A massive rumble of a growl made his eyes widen in surprise.

She didn't…

"Torterra, break that door down!"

There was a great, ear-splitting screech as metal tore and bent, and Heracross scampered off for his own safety as the door blasted in and slammed against some old boxes, causing a literal boatload of dust to fly into the air. Everything became foggy and unclear, and Barry was forced to cover his eyes and mouth as it threatened to choke and blind him.

One vivid blue flash later, the Torterra was gone and Dawn's Lucario was beside him, glowing with Aura energy that his Trainer could surely see, even in the cloudy atmosphere. Barry decided it wasn't worth running, and after the dust had settled, he dismissed Heracross and reluctantly faced her.

Dawn was glaring at him, hands clenched at her sides, Luxray to her left. "There you are! What were you doing in here?"

Barry rubbed at his hair, exhaling slowly. "Nothing."

"Why did you run off for?" She strode towards him and sent her Lucario back into his Pokéball without even glancing at her concerned Pokémon. This showed the depth of her worry, because usually she was all about Pokémon love and attention.

"I…ah, forget it. It's no big deal." He tried to walk past her, but she grabbed his hand before he could get far.

"Barry…did I do something wrong?"

"What? No, of course not! Why would you think that?"

"I thought you were mad about the battle. I'm sorry. It won't count; I'll buy you some soda…okay?"

Did she really think it was about the battle? Barry snorted, trying to pry his hand free, but Dawn refused to let go.

"Quit that, why won't you let me touch you?" She snapped, irritated.

"W-What?"

"We used to hold hands all the time," finished the girl with a shrug. She seemed honestly confused, and he rolled his eyes, wondering how she could be so incredibly clueless.

"Yeah, when we were, like, five."

"So what's the difference now?"

The difference…is pretty much everything. Ugh! How can you be so smart and yet be so stupid?

"We're teenagers," he reminded her a little scathingly. "Holding hands isn't innocent anymore."

"I say otherwise." Dawn stepped a bit closer, peering at him from under her long eyelashes, and he felt his face flush again. "For whatever I did, I'm sorry. I really am."

"…You didn't do anything." Barry sat down on a low crate; his fingers still intertwined with hers, and let out a sigh. Naturally, she sat beside him.

…She was way too close, and his hormones were going to be the death of him. He could feel her shoulder, the heat from her body, everything down to her black hair brushing his neck with dark dove feathers.

It would be so easy to just turn and—

"What's the matter, then? We used to tell each other everything. You're acting so weird, I mean, I expected to be fined for busting down that door." Dawn toyed with the hem of her shirt, brows furrowed in thought.

"It's not too late for that, I mean, whoever owns this place is gonna be ticked off." He purposely averted his eyes, finding it was easier to talk to her when his mind wasn't distracted by…whatever it was.

"Oh well. So, for real, tell me what's up."

Barry fixed his gaze on a high window, and he saw the faint blush of dusk against the rafter beams and metallic walls that lined the warehouse. The Zubat had gone, presumably when Torterra broke in, and now they were truly all alone.

…Save for her wretched Luxray with his spooky stare. At least the Electric-type was sitting in the doorway, back turned to them, so he wouldn't have to feel the strength of his X-ray vision. The ocean past the docks was the color of blood, the sun a low smudge on the horizon.

"…You think we can be friends forever?"

"Huh?" Dawn blinked repeatedly, thrown off by the quiet question. "This is so bizarre for you. Of course we can be."

"I mean…out of everything. Even if I really screwed something up, would you still…?" The words were oddly difficult to say. Her grip tightened on his own, and her next sentence held the promise of unending generations.

"Of course, Barry. We're best pals, you and I, right?"

He said nothing, just turned his head away and looked out into the musty depths of the warehouse, where shadows untouched by light hid uncertain forms.

I can't tell her, he realized. Even if she promises, I just can't.

Five warm spots appeared on his skin as she made him face her, and he fought the urge to recoil as her stormy-sea eyes bore into his own with enough strength to make a Charizard back down. "Is that what was bothering you?"

Disgust abruptly hit his heart hard, and he pulled away from her, standing and staring at anything other than her. "How can you be so stupid?"

"Hey, what did I do now?" Dawn sounded more alarmed than angry, springing to her feet.

"What, it's not obvious?"

"No, it's not. So please, can you tell me what's—"

"I think I love you, okay?" He blurted out.

And there, it was out. He had said it. Barry felt as if, simultaneously, he had had a weight lifted from his chest and that he was also waiting for the same weight to fall and crush him. Her reply now would either make or break him, and he had never been fond of heads or tails.

"…What?" Her tone had abruptly gone so soft that he barely heard it, but regardless he turned to her and waited for her response.

"So…yeah." His old impatience was back, stronger than ever, and he shook a fist at her with a scowl. "You've got ten seconds to tell me what you think of that before I fine you a trillion dollars! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six—what're you grinning about?"

Dawn was smiling, with the biggest, most ridiculous kind of joy that he had ever seen. It was as if some madman had taken sunshine, laughter, and innocent dreams and weaved them together.

"Barry, is that all you're worried about?"

"W-Wait. Huh? Backtrack a bit! You're not—"

She attempted to smother her giggle with one hand, but didn't quite succeed. "You're the stupid one! I knew what the problem was; I was just waiting for you to say it yourself."

"…So you knew? For how long?"

"When I was reading by the museum, you stole my magazine and held it up, right?"

At his dazed nod, she continued with a casual toss of her hair.

"So, I took that opportunity to tell you I was sad that you had left for Hoenn first instead of waiting for me. You got this real anxious look on your face, like you were super apologetic about it, and you handed it back to me without delay. I've never seen that before."

"…I coulda just been feeling guilty!"

"Maybe." Dawn raised one shoulder and let it fall. "However, that was the only reason I could think of."

"You still didn't give me my answer." Barry informed her after a moment's pause.

"No, guess I didn't." She walked towards him and grinned with all of her usual sunrise cheer. "I think I love you too."

Barry couldn't say anything for a good few seconds, then he shook himself (mentally) and asked, "But how much will this change?"

"Nothing at all. We can still be best friends, just…closer than before." She joined both of their hands and held them up to demonstrate.

"Closer than before," he repeated in a low, thoughtful murmur. There was still a risk, still something there that could go horribly wrong and cause them to never speak to one another again. It was the one thing in life that he wasn't rushing into at full speed. The last thing he wanted after all was a headlong collision with misfortune.

He valued Dawn far more than anything else, after all.

But then, he began to feel tentatively happy. He could see her smile, hear her laugh…everything would be different, and yet not. Maybe they'd travel through Hoenn together now, instead of separately.

(And he could laugh at Lucas later.)

"Let's get to the Pokémon Center," Dawn announced suddenly.

"What for?" Barry raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Didn't you heal your Zangoose already?"

"Yeah, but what about your Mightyena?"

"Hmm, that's right. Race you there!" He declared, only to be silenced an instant later as she stood on the tips of her toes and kissed him hard on the lips. He didn't even have time to react before she was gone, zipping down the street with her Luxray hard on her heels.

She forgot one thing, though.

She was fast. Barry was far faster.

He caught up to her before she even turned the corner, and wrapping his arms around her waist, held her still as she yelped in shock.

"Hey, that's cheating!" He remarked with false indignation. "Head starts don't count!"

"Let go of me!" She struggled vainly, but he was unimpressed by it and yawned for her to see.

"Looks like I have to even the odds." He said in her ear, and he smirked as she unexpectedly froze. Her face had colored a deep russet, a richer shade than the setting sun, even. "Hah, what, are you scared now?"

"Er—no."

"Not very convincing." Barry returned the previous favor, pressing his mouth to hers before nipping her lip for good measure. He pelted off again—

-Only to be tackled by her brute of a Luxray.

"Get offa me!" He tried to throw off the smug looking Pokémon, but then Dawn passed by him. A flick of his finger released his Rapidash from her Pokéball, and as she dealt with the Electric-type, he chased after Dawn and succeeded in ensnaring the girl again.

"I need a head start," she whined. "You're so much faster than me!"

"I refuse to let you cheat. The fine for that is a kiss, obviously." His orange eyes glinted into hers, and she stuck her tongue out.

"No way, I'm not gonna race you without a head start!"

"Then I guess we'll not get to Center any time soon," he commented airily with a shark-toothed grin just for her.

And he was just fine with that.


Yes, I know. Don't say it. I recalled whilst writing this that RawkstarVienna specifically told me not to make this an angst fic, and "lovesick Barry" was a bit too close to that for my taste, so I deviated from my original plot and decided to end with a twist and a cheery note. Ended up shorter, but not as "serious conversation" filled.

But hey, if you don't like it, I'll write another. For RawkstarVienna, because you're an awesome writer, friend, and person in general.

Reviews are appreciated—so long as you don't complain 'bout the unexpected story turn.