By the Dawn's Early Light
Little needles of light greeted the sky, the earth, and everything in between as the sun rose in the east. Hardly anybody was up to see the dewy grass glisten or the crickets end their nighttime songs. Hardly anybody.
"Nothing has changed," Ash Ketchum said to himself as he strolled along the sidewalk that lead to the dirt path he was seeking. Cerulean City was a big place, but after only a couple of visits, he knew where to go. The young man turned the corner that revealed the next part of his journey. A long dirt path cut through the middle of a small hill that led to his destination.
A small morning breeze picked up and blew the back of Ash's medium-length raven hair to the side. He straightened his hair and adjusted his cap, took a deep breath, hoisted his backpack up against his blue vest, and started up the path.
Normally, his dear Pokémon companion Pikachu would be marching right by his side, but Ash had left the electric mouse with Nurse Joy at the Pokémon Center, despite its protests.
"I'll be back this afternoon, buddy. I promise," Ash had told Pikachu, giving it a big hug. This time, he had to go alone.
With each step, Ash's heart pounded harder and harder. He swallowed and fought back any anxiety that welled up within him. It can't get much worse than you've made it.
Coming up the hill, he found it. The large circular building with a faded pink big top, like a circus tent. The image of a Dewgong was proudly displayed on the front of the building above the letters "Cerulean City Gym."
The young man smiled when he saw the building, and as he walked down the path, his smile widened when he turned his gaze slightly to the right. A large fountain gushed streams of water from its spigot in an arch pattern. The sound of the water flowing and splashing all but disappeared when Ash finally saw her.
Misty stood at the edge of the pool, giggling as she watched a Totodile and a Mudkip paddle about in the water. Her fiery hair barely touched her shoulders, just touching the edge of her yellow sweat jacket. As the slender girl turned, her bright green eyes glittered just like the sun, at least to Ash.
"Ash!" she called out.
"Hi Misty," Ash said, making his way closer to her and the pool.
"What are you doing here? And it's so early," Misty said.
"I could say the same to you," Ash responded.
"I'm the Gym Leader here, duh!" the young woman said, putting her hands on her hips. "I'm making sure our Pokémon are warmed up and ready to go before the day starts." She motioned at Totodile and Mudkip, who leapt out of the pool.
"Why don't you two go inside? It's about time for you guys to eat," Misty said. The two creatures made elated exclamations and scurried inside the gym.
"Looks like you're doing a great job. They seem real happy," Ash mentioned, shifting his feet.
"They are," Misty said. "But really, what are you doing here? And where's Pikachu?"
"Pikachu's at the Pokémon Center with the other Pokémon. You'll see them this afternoon," Ash replied. "And what? Can't I surprise you?"
"I guess. You being up before dawn by yourself is already surprising," Misty jested. Ash furrowed his brow as if to say "Really?" Misty laughed and said, "I usually take a walk around this part of the city before breakfast. Want to join me?"
"I was just about to suggest that. Sounds great."
The two stepped along the grass away from the gym. A nice little area of grass and verdant, leafy trees surrounded them on their way to the Cerulean Bridge that overlooked the river. The rustling of the leaves in the breeze was so calming to their ears.
"I forgot! Thank you for the birthday gift," Misty piqued. She reached under the collar of her shirt, revealing a series of shells connected on a string she wore around her neck. In the middle of the necklace was a small hexagonal piece of amber that Ash found in Ambrette Town.
"You bet. I knew I'd string something together," Ash said, smiling and putting his hands in his pockets. Misty laughed at his pun. "So, did you get my last card?"
"I did," Misty answered. "Thanks for letting me know you when made it to the Kalos League. We were all watching."
"Yeah. It was a really crazy tournament. It's the farthest I've gotten in such a large league."
"It was so close. You guys did great against Diantha."
"She was super tough. Especially with that Gardevoir. But that's why she's the champ," Ash sighed as they passed the last overarching tree. The bridge was only a minute away.
"You'll be champion one of these days, Ash," Misty assured the boy. "Being a Pokémon Master doesn't mean winning all the time."
"I agree," Ash said. It's more than just about Pokémon, too.
He remembered back to when he and Pikachu were leaving the stadium. Diantha was right outside waiting for him.
"That was an amazing effort," the champion said to the challenger. "Beating the Elite Four is a noble feat."
"I know," Ash sighed. He was carrying Pikachu, who was exhausted after the final battle. Even with all of Pikachu's strength and agility, Gardevoir's endurance was the deciding factor.
"I've heard a lot about you, you know," Diantha continued. "How you haven't won a final League Challenge since the Orange League."
"What's your point?" Ash asked irritably.
"I've also heard a lot about your travels, your adventures with your friends, both Pokémon and human," the champion responded. "You are clearly one who is about the journey. What one can accomplish and how they can make a difference along the way."
Diantha reached out and cupped Ash's shoulder. "To me, that means more than winning any competition. It's about the life you share with others, not the things you accomplish. What you share with those special people."
Ash smiled a bit. "You're right."
"Pika!" Pikachu exclaimed.
"Don't you have some old friends you'd like to see again? Really capture that essence again?"
"You have no idea," Ash thought. He simply nodded, his cheeks going a little red.
"Judging by your complexion, there's someone more important than I think," Diantha said, laughing a little.
"Chuuuu," Pikachu said.
"Well," Ash began. "Anyway, thank you for everything. It's just what I needed to hear."
Ash and Misty stood at the rails of the bridge, looking at the water that sparkled with the sun's rays. It was almost like light bouncing off of glass, the water being so smooth.
"You know, Misty," Ash started. "There's a new region I'm just dying to explore."
"I know," Misty answered, still staring in the water. "It's in the east, right?"
"So you'll be leaving immediately, as usual?" the girl asked, frowning a bit.
"Yeah," Ash said, reaching into his vest pocket. "Got my ticket for the ferry that leaves in two days. I have to leave town today."
"And," Ash said. "I'm not going alone."
Misty turned her head to see that Ash indeed held two tickets. She gulped and said, "Wow. Do you want Brock to go again? You know he's busy, you know with the gym and his Pokémon doctorate courses and all."
"No," Ash replied, taking off his hat. "I want you to go."
Misty couldn't say anything. She just stared at Ash, who looked like he was fighting back something.
"I know you're busy with your gym, but I thought…well… Man! I can't say it!"
"Just say what you need to say," Misty said, chills running down her spine. "Don't worry about how it sounds."
"I love all of my friends, all of them," Ash continued. "But no matter who I meet or travel with, I can't stop thinking about you. It hurts to know you're not there with me, even if you're yelling at me or calling me a fool."
Misty moved a strand of her orangish hair out of her face. "I've missed you a lot too. I'm glad you haven't forgotten about me."
"Never could," Ash pulled out a small pink cloth out of another one of his vest pockets to show Misty. It was the handkerchief she had given him before he went to Hoenn. "You know, I heard in some cultures that when a girl gives a boy a gift like this one, it means she really likes him."
"Really?" Misty said, her cheeks starting to become red.
"I figured that you might feel that way a long time ago," Ash said, trying not to stumble over his words. "And yet I never said anything."
"You didn't have to," Misty cut in, moving a few steps down the bridge, Ash following her. "I mean, you just wanted to be best friends and well, that was fine with me. Why fix what isn't broken?"
"No I didn't," Ash replied. "At least, not really. I was younger and I couldn't make up my mind."
"Well you could have at least said something, anything. Like you are now." Misty paused, trying to stop herself from getting choked up. "And to be honest, it's not like I couldn't move on from what I felt."
"Well me either!" Ash said, getting noticeably upset. "I'm human too, Misty. You've probably had lots of guys going for you!"
"I could say the same about you and May and Dawn and all the others."
Both of them stood there at different sides of the bridge, not looking at each other. Tears welled up in both of their eyes.
"Look," Ash began, his voice quivering. "I didn't want it to come to this. I could say I'm sorry that I didn't return any of your feelings, that I didn't stick around for a little longer whenever I came over. But that won't be enough. I love you and I always have in some way. I'd give anything just to have one day, one day to give you what you wanted. But I know that's not realistic. You hate me for these things probably. You deserve great friendship and even more love, and I know I don't deserve that. That's why I want you to come with me on this next journey. It'll be just you and me, in whatever way you'd want that."
Misty stood silent. The breeze picked up again and blew her hair to the side. She didn't move a muscle for a few moments before she walked over to Ash.
"You're right, Ash. You don't deserve any friendship or love after all these years," Misty said. Ash turned his head away, but a soft hand turned it back. "We do."
The Pokémon trainer stared in amazement as the fourth Waterflower faintly smiled at him. The same look spread across his face before they both locked each other in the tightest of embraces. Half laughing and half crying, tears spilled from their eyes as Ash and Misty buried their faces in each other's shoulders.
"Well, this journey will sure be different," Ash said, pulling back and putting his hand behind Misty's head.
"I don't think so," Misty said. "It'll be just like riding a bike."
Both of them laughed, still clinging to each other, the laughter only stopping when they brought their lips together, the breeze fading away again and the sun's rays shining bright.