Ash's lack of formality – and more so, social sense – was never more apparent than the night they first kissed. Iris spent the better part of an hour congratulating him on his latest gym badge before he snapped and asked why she wasn't giving him a hard time over it.
She called him thankless, and a kid, and announced that she was giving Cilan his reward instead, since Ash was too rude. Cilan was rendered helpless as she grabbed him by the cheeks and kissed him before storming off.
But he was even more amused when Ash stole the kiss back from Cilan without hesitation, then chased after her.
Sometimes it was easy to forget that Ash was a foreigner, from a place with different customs, since they all spoke the same language. Hugs were a daily part of life for Iris, and had been for Cilan until he'd learned self-restraint to keep the customers from getting jealous. At first, neither of them noticed his slight discomfort at their frequent invasions of personal space in the early weeks of their journey.
That revelation around the third time – she hadn't bothered to count – Iris had hugged him, when she'd half-flopped onto his back one morning while he was shining his badges.
Her “Good morning!” was met with a slight grumble.
“Why are you guys so clingy, anyway?”
He wouldn't know what those words meant to her until she won the Don Tournament a month later, when she ran toward him with open arms, only to hesitate and extend her hand instead.
For the first few days, she'd followed him just because he seemed entertaining, and maybe a little because she wanted revenge for that pokeball to the head. Then he pulled that stupid, reckless stunt at the hot springs... That was the first time they'd grabbed hands, when she saved him that day...
She found excuses to grab his hand after that, and to touch his shoulder when she dared. There was another want buried in there, to touch his face, but that one made no sense to her – at least, none she was prepared to admit to – and more importantly, wasn't something she could find an excuse for. So she took his hand to pull him along to show him things when he would have followed on his own anyway, started eating with her left hand sometimes just so they'd “accidentally” brush, and shook his hand after every battle, even just the practice ones between Axew and Scraggy.
Now that he was the one who'd purposefully taken her hand, and now that his fingers were wrapped between hers... Now she wouldn't have to make excuses anymore. Now she could admit that she wanted to be there, where she could touch him.
“I don't get it though. I love Pikachu, but that doesn't give me Butterfrees in my tummy...”
Cilan sighed in amusement, patting Ash on the back. “It's simple. They're two different types of love. There's really nothing more to it.”
He frowned. That answer wasn't good enough. He wasn't the kind of guy to want explanations for most things, but that meant that when he did want them, the question would haunt him until he got an answer. It wasn't like he'd never felt this way before; sometimes, when Misty or May or especially Dawn looked really pretty and smiled at him, he'd get that same wiggly feeling. But lately...
“It's like they're using Double Team in there, whenever she won't look at me. I just feel so nervous.”
Cilan managed not to chuckle for fear of ruining the mood, but couldn't hide his smile. In the same way Cilan understood the taste of anything, in Ash's mind, even love was explainable only through pokemon.
Cilan was no stranger to feeding a crowd. Back home, he had usually been the one to cook dinner for his brothers; if left to Chili, the dishes would inevitably be too spicy, and Cress simply made too small of portions to feed them all.
There were still times when he counted wrong or underestimated the appetites of his still-growing companions, however, and the platter would turn up clean much too early.
Tonight there was only one – nay, only one half – sandwich left, and both Ash and Iris eyed it intently, leaving Cilan to cough and excuse himself.
He was pulled back immediately, however, as the two began to argue over who had eaten more, and thus who the remaining food rightfully belonged to.
“I could cut it in half,” he offered graciously; he much preferred washing dishes to moderating fights. They begrudgingly agreed, and then stared down the result, each certain their half was smaller than the others'.
Pikachu could only sigh when the food remained untouched several tense minutes later, when he and Axew chose to save their trainers from the challenge of sharing by eating it for them.