"moon river, wider than a mile;
i'm crossing you in style, someday.
oh, dream maker, you heartbreaker;
wherever you're going, i'm going your way."
She's at his doorstep, and they stare at each other for a moment too long, her backpack slung over her shoulder and Fraxure standing next to her. "Well," he finally says, and there's pain in his eyes, written clear across the stars that are reflected inside them. Not for the first time, she feels a pang in her heart. "I guess this is goodbye. For a bit, at least."
They stare at each other again, moments too long, afraid to say what's most important to them. His eyes scan her irises, and if there's pain in his, there's pride, too. Fraxure shifts, uncomfortable.
She doesn't know who moves first. All she knows is that suddenly her head is resting against his chest, and she can feel his heartbeat, strong and fast and alive, strong arms shielding her from the torment she's about to endure. The badge in her bag is a heavy against her, and she thinks that maybe he can feel it weighing her down. When he pulls away, he clears his throat and steels himself, straightening that stupid bowtie of his and saying, "take care of yourself, Ms Ajagara."
She backs up, hopping down the steps, walking backwards just so she can keep looking at him. "You too, Cilan."
Cilan cracks a smile, bittersweet in the air, and, just as she's about to turn around and head up the hill, he says, "Iris?"
"I believe in you."
This time she does turn around, and she thinks of what a kid she is for the tears that spring into her eyes as she says, voice too strong for a girl that's only eighteen, "see you soon, Griffith."
Those are the last words she says to him for a long time.
Her eyes scan the horizon of his little city with fondness, tracing the seams of the quaint town and all the people in it. There's a backpack on her shoulder and the world at her feet, and just for a moment, she considers going back, considers knocking on his door.
But she's already won his badge, and as she turns, the moon reflects the river she's set to cross. She remembers telling him, Cilan, ages ago, back when they were kids, that she'd cross that river in style, someday.
No time like the present.
Squaring her shoulders, she glances at Fraxure, who nods and follows her lead, trustful and seemingly prepared.
The road to the Championship is a long one, but it'll be longer for them.
(She crosses that moon river in style.)
When Iris was eight, the village elder presented a visitor to her.
He was a bearded man, tall in stature and firm in personality. Dragons fought with him and against him, and he inspired all he met.
Iris was not impressed.
The village elder, you see, had pulled her away from her precious playtime, and this was, in Iris' book, a serious offence against the visitor. She sassed him throughout the entire visitation, and at the end, when the elder dismissed her, Iris ran out to go and play in the gardens. She found out much later that the man was telling the village elder that he didn't think Iris was a right fit for the future.
And then there was a yell, a shout, and, running outside, the elder and the visitor found Iris riding on the back of the fiercest dragons in the village, the very one that was said could never be befriended nor tamed. Her smile was bright and she was completely unafraid of this beast that had grown men cowering, and though she didn't hear, she was later told that the visitor turned to the dragon elder and said, "I'll be back next week to visit with her again."
That one incident determined her entire future.
(Later, she found out the visitor's name.
His name was Drayden.)
Drayden is her dream maker.
The thought strikes Iris as she stands on Unova's most acclaimed bridge, wind in her hair and history at her back, feet tired but not-yet bruised. Two gym badges are settled at the bottom of her bag, and she walks forward with a courage in her steps, alone save for Fraxure and the other Pokemon in their Pokeballs. She'll get to Castelia by sunset, she guesses; she hopes that Burgh will pick her up there; he's promised to take her to her hotel.
She met Burgh before she met any other gym leader, excluding Drayden. They were both young when they met, granted he about six years older than her. He was fifteen and she nine, and he'd yet to claim his title as Castelia's guardian. Drayden introduced them. It was this train of thought that led Iris to concluding that Drayden is her dream maker.
He planted thoughts in her heads, starting out small -"you could be a great Pokemon trainer"- and then slowly expanding -"you could be a dragon master, the best of the best"- forming her very dreams, her aspirations -"a gym leader, dragon-oriented and feared"- her most wanted desires and wishes -"you will be Unova's greatest Champion, dragon master, respected by all."
Because of this, he also ended up forming her fears.
Drayden is her dream maker, Iris thinks as she munches on an apple and watches the flying-types soar by, but he is also her heartbreaker. She supposes it's not far off from what Cilan whispered to her, once. "Those who make you, break you."
Drayden helped to form her, just as the village elder allowed him to do so. And for a long time, wherever he went, she went his way.
Then came the crossroads; the "choose, Iris, or be left behind." She had to make the decision herself, instead of blindly following the aspirations he set before her, and so she thought.
And she thought, and she thought, and she thought.
And now, Iris is here, two badges in her bag and her feet just crossing into Castelia City, the skyline burnt against the skyscrapers.
Idly, Iris wonders if she'll have the chance to call Cilan tonight. She hasn't called him in about a month, since she left.
But then, he doesn't expect her to call him, and she remembers what Drayden told her before she set off on this journey.
"You have to do some things on your own."
Burgh has a taxi waiting for her.
As she climbs in, Iris wonders if that's why Ash always lost his battles.
Skyla is almost too easy.
Iris loves Skyla; really, she does. But the girl is almost a pathetically easy win, and Iris thinks it serves as a telling calm before the storm. As she collects Skyla's badge, there's something in the gym leader's eyes, akin to worry.
"Be careful with Brycen," Skyla whispers.
Iris tilts her head. "I won't be careful," she whispers, returning Haxorus to his Pokeball. "I'll get the job done."
Brycen's is the first gym battle she loses.
As she returns for the second time, she sheds her coats with a glare at the cold that greets her skin. But if her Pokemon can stand this wretched weather, Iris figures she can, as well.
"Welcome back," Brycen says. "I see you've embraced the weather."
Iris snorts, releasing Dragonite with a flick of her wrist.
"Not quite." Iris sucks in a breath. "Dragon pulse," she says.
She talks to Cilan for the first time in nine months, resting in her old room up in the Opelucid Gym.
"How's everything?" Iris questions, sipping her tea before placing it on her bedside table.
"It's great," Cilan answers, too bright. He cringes. After a moment, he swallows. "Actually..." Cilan fiddles with his fingers, and through the screen, Iris thinks he looks smaller. "... I just miss you."
Iris blinks. "I miss you too," she says, and she thinks that maybe he sees how tired she is of this solo trip of hers.
"Are you afraid?" He asks, changing the subject, and Iris can't decide if she likes the beard he's began to grow.
"Are you?" She counters, changing into her pajamas off-camera.
Instead of answering, Cilan shifts, and Iris feels a rush as she stumbles back into view of the camera to see that he's wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. Even Cilan lets his hair down, sometimes.
(She misses him. It's hard to admit it, but she does. Iris misses him more than anyone.)
"Do you remember," Cilan says, "when Ash left?"
His tone is slow, deliberate; Iris wonders what this has to do with anything. "Yeah," Iris collapses on her bed, looking at him through the camera. "And then there were two."
"Two drifters," Cilan agrees. "Off to see the world."
Iris sighs. "It's such a lonely world out there."
Cilan snorts, most ungentlemanly but somehow fitting to the situation. Her eyes snap to his and it stings when he says, "I feel like we felt, then. Except worse."
There's a strange feeling in her belly as she turns over, just in time to hear him say: "I don't have you anymore."
A moment of silence passes.
She says, "you always have me, Griffith," but the connection's been lost and she's speaking to darkness.
Compared to Drayden, fighting the Elite Four are a piece of cake.
Iris thinks that maybe it's because the worse, for her, is over; if she could beat her mentor, her father-figure, she could beat these Almost-Champions.
And so she does. Her Pokemon plow through them, and then, before she knows it, she's in an arena. It's bright, and people are cheering, and it burns her, but her Pokemon are standing firm with her and there are voices that she recognizes among the din.
Alder smiles at her as their final Pokemon clash, a haze of Haxorus and Bouffalant, and through it all she can hear the shouts of the two people who have been family to her since she was eleven. One says, "come on Iris, you got this!" And there's a Pikachu's shout right alongside of his, bright and unashamed.
The other seems to be right next to her, though in reality she knows he's stands away. "I believe in you," he says, and she's taken back to that day a year ago, when she'd walked away without saying anything to him.
"Earthquake," Iris commands, and she thinks that once she wins this, she'll tell that man, properly, that she loves him.
It's early morning and a rainbow has worked its way around the sky.
She finds him waiting round the bend, after the same rainbow's end, bent like a stooping tree against the riverbank. He's always been a tall fellow, and she short in stature, but as she walks towards him, she thinks that they're finally on the same level.
"Hey," Iris says, her voice uncharacteristically soft.
This man, her best friend and so much more, glances over at her and smiles. "Madame Champion," he greets, tone just as quiet.
"I can't believe I crossed this river a year ago."
He laughs, quiet and as polite as its always been, and then, as if he's forcing it out, he murmurs, "left the river and me."
Iris shivers, that heaviness that's settled over her ever since she'd taken the burdensome title of Champion especially heavy, now. "I don't have you anymore."
It's an echo of what he said to her a few months prior, and he blinks. Unbeknownst to him, he mimics the words she'd said in return: "You always have me, Iris."
There's a shift in the wind; the sun reflects the river.
That backpack is slung over her shoulder, still, but this time she's got no particular place to go; at least, not for the time being. They stare at each other for a fraction too long and then Iris is in his arms, him bending low to rest his head on hers and her rising on tiptoe to lace her arms around his neck.
"I need to tell you," Iris says. "Properly."
And she knows, knows full well, that Cilan knows, but it's gone unsaid too damn long and she's tired of waiting. She's a Champion. She's not immortal.
He tilts his head, and he has the audacity to beat her to it. "I'm quite in love with you, Iris Ajagara."
She stares up at him, the Unovan Champion ring resting on her right ring finger, the gym badges heavy in her backpack, but suddenly it doesn't seem as trying.
Iris says, "I'm in love with you, too." And then she kisses him, properly.
Minutes later, they part, only to sit down by the river bank and enjoy each other's company (perhaps kiss some more). Iris remembers the other piece of advice Drayden had given her.
"You have to do some things alone. But you shouldn't ever do everything solo."
Cilan kisses her again.
As they part to watch the sunrise, Iris wonders if that's why Ash always won his wars.
"two drifters, off to see the world;
it's such a lonely world out there.
we're after the same rainbow's end, waitin' 'round the bend;
my huckleberry friend... moon river, and me."