Time to Face the Music Chapter 1 Pokeshipping Some necessary background info for everyone: First and foremost, I suggest you read my intro section on tumblr or fanfiction dot net (rach-ships-aaml) to understand the concept of what I'm doing here. And so you don't think I'm totally crazy. As far as character age is concerned, the ages really aren't that important. Rachael is slightly older than everyone else, about 22. Everyone else would probably be legal adults at this point. In this fiction, the characters are just as they are in the series. I just don't like the concept of "I've been 10 years old for the last 5 years and I'll never grow up." There's no way that 10 and 12 year olds are traveling the world with dangerous battling creatures on their own, let's be real. Rachael (yes, that's me) is just a bit older than the rest of the cast. She is short, with long blonde curly hair and blue eyes. She's got a mild attitude problem, but she has a good heart. She's got a sense of humor and loves to make others laugh (see me trying to be modest here? LOL) She's a good trainer, and has been working with her Pokémon for a long time. She is competitive in only two ways - her image, and in Pokémon battles. She can be full of herself (she is a Pokémon master with a virtually unbeatable Pokémon after all), but she's extremely kind hearted under her tough exterior. From a young age, she was driven to train harder than her peers. From the time she was very young, she had a Vulpix that was very protective. They were best buds and companions, as Rachael sometimes had difficulty relating to other children her age. That Vulpix became an unusually strong Ninetales that evolved on her own without the use of a fire stone in an attempt to save Rachael from a team of Rocket Grunts. She was 7 at the time. Ninetales has not lost a battle since evolving on her own 15 years ago. The bond between Rachael and her Ninetales is on another level, and the two are strongest together. Rachael defeated all her opponents in the Indigo League the year before Ash competed. Her battles were so impressive (especially considering her age), she was offered a position as a member of the Elite Four. She served as a member for almost year (giving it up just before Ash competed), before deciding to travel through the Orange Islands and challenge the gym leaders there. It was then on a cruise around Shamouti Island that she first saw Ash and his friends during the Legend Festival. They didn't officially meet, but Rachael didn't forget Ash or the redhead who was so obviously smitten with him, and in denial. She thought it was cute, and took a liking to the idea of the two of them as a couple. She never introduced herself in the Orange Islands, she just had a feeling they'd meet again. When her cruise came to an end, Rachael returned to Kanto to open a training center in Cerulean, where she would coach trainers looking to challenge the Elite Four. A few months after the construction of her facility was complete, the Sensational Sisters left the Cerulean Gym in the hands of 3 ill equipped trainers while they waited for their youngest sister to return home. About a week after the Gym had passed inspection, Rachael went to introduce herself to the new leader. Right away she recognized her as the girl who was traveling with Ash through the Orange Islands. After formally meeting Misty, Rachael immediately questioned her about the boy she was traveling with. Known to be blunt, Rachael told Misty she knew she had feelings for Ash, based on their interaction on Shamouti Island. Although she would never admit it, Rachael was a hopeless romantic like Misty, and she wanted to know their whole story. And so Misty told their story from the very beginning, not one detail left out... and Rachael fell in love with love - and with the idea of Ash and Misty together. And now, it's Time to Face the Music! Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon, and don't claim to. There are also song lyrics within this fanfic that also are not mine. A complete list of songs and artists quoted will be listed after the last chapter has been uploaded. "Tell me, did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that Heaven is overrated? Tell me, did you fall from a shooting star, one without a permanent scar and did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?" Electric bill... water bill... car payment... Rachael sorted through the mail at the front desk of the training center. Her desk was located in the lobby, lavishly decorated in pink and gold. The place really looked more like Barbie's summer home than a gym, but that didn't stop dedicated trainers from flooding in during her open enrollment last month. There was so much to sort through; not only bills, but also contracts, registration forms, and liability waivers. It was slightly overwhelming, especially considering the fact that Rachael was about as organized as a tornado when it came to filing paperwork. She had enough tea to choke a Horsea this morning, and still she couldn't stop feeling like her eyes were going to roll back in her head. The gym door opened and a pretty blonde girl peeked her head into the lobby. "Hey Rachael, don't say anything to Alyssa, but I think she broke the bench for the free weights. It's pretty wobbly and..." "I DID NOT BRAKE THE BENCH!" Alyssa yelled from inside the gym. "But Ray would know that if she came back here once in a while!" Alyssa meant it as a joke, but there was still a tinge of seriousness behind her words. Rachael was guilty of not spending as much time in the gym as she should, and she knew that. Rachael sighed, tossed the bills aside and faced Abbie in the doorway, who wasn't quite sure how she would respond to Alyssa's teasing. She forced a smile, but Abbie could see in her eyes that the stress was starting to take its toll. Light bags were beginning to form under her eyes, and her blonde, naturally curly hair wasn't as meticulously styled. She looked sloppy in her black leggings and an oversized pink sweater, but Rachael was a fan of the "I just got back from the gym" look, cute but comfy. She still always managed to cake on eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara, but today it wasn't enough to hide the exhaustion on her face. "I really am grateful for you two," Rachael said, then looked over Abbie's shoulder and called to the redhead in the back room. "I'm even appreciative of Alyssa's criticism. Someone has to keep me in check," she laughed. "Listen, I'm drowning in paperwork at the moment, but as soon as I get these bills paid I'll call and order a replacement bench. I'll even have the shipping expedited." "You know I was just messing with you," Alyssa said, feeling guilty. There's no way she'd trade places with Rachael and be responsible for all that paperwork, forget it. "I know you've got a lot to deal with on the business end of things." "Yes," Rachael replied, "but these trainers really are here to see me, no offense," she laughed. She had been asked to serve as a member of the Elite Four, after all. "I mean, you two do a great job leading the sessions, but I'm supposed to be coaching these trainers. That's what they pay me for. Don't feel badly Alyssa, you're right. Now let me finish these bills..." Rachael hesitated, knowing what she was about to say next goes against everything she had just said. "...and afterwards I was thinking of heading over to the Cerulean Gym for a bit." Alyssa rolled her eyes, but smiled. "It's the weekend, you're supposed to be off anyway. Go chill out for a while. Abbie and I are just going to vacuum and wipe down the equipment, then we'll lock up." "We'll take care of it, no big deal," Abbie assured her. "Just go! Do the bills tomorrow. And say hi to Misty for me!" Rachael really was grateful for these two amazing friends. Neither had any interest in the gym initially, but just wanted to help her out. Now they genuinely enjoyed working with trainers, and wanted to see the gym (and Rachael) succeed. They were also able to learn and train their own Pokémon in the process, all while getting paid. It was a win/win truthfully. Abbie's suggestion successfully convinced her to take care of the bills tomorrow morning. Rachael threw the bills in her desk drawer and quickly filed the remaining contracts and registration forms. She stood up to check her reflection in the mirror behind her desk. Not too bad for someone who owes everybody and their brother money. Where did all my money go? I made so much while working for the Elite Four... She looked down at her designer handbag, and then out the window at the pink and black Camaro parked out front. Oh yeah, that's where. Not to mention the facility I just built, and the house next door. She picked up her tote, grabbed her keys, and nudged the sleeping Pokémon at her feet. "Let's go Sleeping Beauty, gotta get outta here before I regret putting things off again." "Niiiine!" Sounds good to me! The Ninetales stood up with a yawn, then stretched her back and nine beautiful fox tails before following her trainer to the door. "THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU GIRLS! LOVE YA!" Rachael called to them before she and Ninetales hopped into the sports car and left for the Cerulean City Gym. * * * * * It was a gorgeous day, so Rachael had rolled the windows down in the Camaro and Ninetales was blissfully hanging from the passenger's side. The Cerulean Gym wasn't far at all, but they had enough time to belt out the lyrics to Madonna's "Cherish" and dance along for the duration of the four minute drive. She hadn't called and told Misty she'd be coming, but they were such good friends it really didn't matter if Rachael just walked right in and took over the place. She had arrived in the middle of a match. Rachael walked into the large room where Misty's battles took place, and sat down on a bench facing the olympic size pool. Misty's Azurill noticed her first. "Azuu!" she cried out happily, and ran over to Rachael, jumping into her arms. "Hello precious!" Rachael lifted the baby Pokémon in her arms. Ninetales reached up and licked Azurill's face in greeting. The fiery redhead stood atop the pedestal closest to Rachael, and her challenger - a lanky boy about 15 with short, spiked hair - stood on the pedestal at the opposite end of the pool. Gyrados was projecting a powerful stream of water onto a Rhydon, that was obviously a poor choice on the challenger's behalf. The Rhydon winced in pain, and let out one final growl before losing balance and falling into the pool, a total knockout. The young boy, seeing his Pokémon sink to the bottom of the pool, began to panic. "Gyrados, bring Rhydon up to the surface!" Misty commanded. Gyrados brought the Rhydon to the pedestal where the young boy stood. The boy returned his fainted Pokémon, looking defeated. "Hey it's ok," Misty reassured him. "You gotta live and learn, right? You had a huge disadvantage putting up a rock type against my water type. Next time bring a grass or electric type, then you'll do much better! Don't get down about it, you're a great trainer. Your Rhydon battled well, considering," she said, and smiled at the boy. She hoped he wouldn't take his loss to heart. He did seem to cheer up after listening to her advice. "Thanks, Misty! I'll be back," he promised, and headed for the door. As he exited he walked right past Rachael, who was a witness to his rather painful defeat. "Psst, hey kid," she said, in a voice a bit louder than a whisper. The boy stopped and looked over at her, confused. "I can help ya beat her," she said slyly, and handed him a business card. "Uhh, thanks miss..." he said, then proceeded to exit the gym. Rachael smiled at Misty, who simply rolled her eyes. "Nice," Misty said. "Like I wasn't going to catch that?" Rachael crossed her arms. "I meant you to," she said, and sauntered over to the pedestal her friend had just stepped off. "Great battle. Didn't require a lot of effort on your part, but at least Gyrados is obeying your commands," Rachael replied with a smirk. "Thanks for the backhanded compliment. To what to I owe this surprise visit?" Misty asked. She took off her soaking wet uniform jacket and wrung it out over the edge of the pool. "You act like I'm not here all the time. I wanted to check on Primarina, then I was actually hoping you'd be free to talk for a bit. I need to vent." Actually, I could use a vent session too." Misty said. A seal like Pokémon jumped out of the pool and landed on the pedestal beside them. She whistled and clapped her back fins together. "Hi Primarina, you gorgeous girl!" Rachael ran up to pet the mermaid-like seal, and cradled it's face in her hands. "Are you having fun here? You can stay a while longer and play with the other Pokémon, but don't get in the way of Misty's battles, ok?" Primarina sang out in agreement before diving back into the pool to rejoin her friends. "I'm actually done for the day, so we can head up to the loft," said Misty. When she had returned to serve as the gym leader full time, she built a room situated above the pool, so she always had somewhere to go if she needed to escape from her sisters. The loft was contained by one way glass, so that Misty could see what was going on below, but also had her privacy. Rachael couldn't help but notice all the photos on display in her room. Misty had one of herself, Rachael, Tracy and Cassidy enjoying a picnic with their Pokémon at the Cerulean Lighthouse. Rachael laughed, "This one is cute, but where's the one I took of you there? That's my favorite." Rachael snuck behind Misty and Cassidy the day they went to meet up with a boy who had a huge crush on Misty a few years ago. She snapped a shot of an embarrassed Misty being asked out on a date by the total stranger. "It's not my favorite!" Misty gave her the stink eye, but she wasn't really mad at Rachael. At least not anymore, in the moment she had been furious. And to add insult to injury, Rachael immortalized the moment by sharing it on social media. "O.K.," Misty said with a sigh as she flopped down on the bed with Azurill at her side. "You talk first." Rachael sat down on the floor, and Misty made a face. "You know, I have a futon in here, you don't have to sit on the floor," she said. Rachael pulled a bottle of bright pink nail polish from her purse. "I don't trust myself on the futon with this, I'm fine here," Rachael replied, and the vent session had begun. Misty, Azurill and Ninetales listened intently while Rachael complained about how crazy it was at the training center. She talked about how she thought she'd need to hire more help just to keep up. She said she just couldn't focus on getting things done that needed to be done (bills, contracts, waivers, etc.), and she was only really interested in the physical work, training with her Pokémon. Misty wasn't really surprised, Rachael had always gotten bored with things pretty quickly, and she rushed into building her gym without any thought as to how is was going to be run. The fact that she'd already been successful for 2 whole years (forever as far as Rachael was concerned) was pretty impressive, but uncharacteristic. "Even though it's making me crazy, I don't regret opening the gym," Rachael said as she brushed her freshly painted fingers through Ninetales' mane. "I just don't know how much longer I can stay cooped up in there. I'm definitely hiring somebody else to manage the bills and the paperwork, that's for sure." When Rachael realized she had rambled on and on about her problems for a full hour, she decided to put it to rest. "Ok, so now tell me, what's up with you? I really expected you to have some sort of opinion or advice for me, but you seem very distracted." Misty sighed, and looked over at the photo on her nightstand. It was her favorite picture, a photo of the whole gang at Ash's house: May, Drew, Max, Brock, Tracey, Gary, Gary's cheerleaders, Dawn, Barry, Rachael, Delia, Professor Oak, Ash, and herself. Even Team Rocked could be seen photobombing in their hot air balloon in the background. She had such great memories will all her friends. I was so happy that day, when everyone got together, things seemed so perfect... she thought. Why can't it still be like that? Why haven't I seen some of the people that mean so much to be in almost two years? I feel like I need him now more than ever... but why? Of course, Misty missed Ash always, but in the last few weeks his absence had tugged on her heart strings even more. She could tell that her sister Daisy was starting to fall for their friend Tracey, and the two of them were becoming pretty lovey-dovey lately. It wasn't that she wasn't happy for her older sister, she was. But Misty was a romantic at heart, and seeing the two of them together made her long to be in the arms of a certain boy. A certain pain in the neck, who hadn't even spoken to her in over a year. When a few moments passed and Misty remained quiet, Rachael looked up and noticed her staring at the picture, lost in thought. "That was a fun day," she said. "Huh?" Misty snapped back to reality when her friend spoke, but a look of melancholy; a look of sadness she just couldn't hide, was still there in her eyes. Rachael knew that Misty had strong feelings for Ash, and she believed that Ash felt the same way, but was still too immature to realize it. "I haven't even heard you say his name in over a month. I know you were watching the Kalos League Championship to see him, you just wouldn't acknowledge it. Is there a reason for that?" Rachael asked, genuinely curious. She was very supportive of (sometimes even pushy about) the relationship between Ash and Misty progressing from friendship into something more. They were both so busy with their respective gyms, Rachael had just assumed Misty was too busy to reminisce, and she hadn't thought to encourage her. "...Well, truthfully, I've been trying not to think about him at all anymore, but I just don't have the heart to put this picture away," Misty said. She lowered her head and closed her eyes, fighting back tears. Rachael was in shock. She glared at Misty, who was avoiding her gaze. "You're trying not to think about him? Are you kidding me? You love-" "I can't love him." Misty snapped back. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. "He's not even here. He never comes home. Never even tries to contact me at all! He knows I'm here watching him compete and cheering him on... or at least, he should know. But do I ever get an invitation? How many Leagues has he competed in since I saw him last?" She fought hard to reel in her emotions, but her voice still quivered. "He knew I never wanted to leave." Rachael hadn't seen Misty this distraught... well, ever. She had only known Misty, Ash, and the gang for about 3 years. But in that short amount of time, she knew all about their group dynamic. "I know you didn't, and you made it clear to him that you wanted to stay, whether it got through that thick skull of his or not," she said, and took a seat next to Misty on the bed. Ninetales reached up with a tail and wiped Misty's tears away, and Azurill hugged her momma's arm. "Azuuuu..." Everything will be ok... Misty forced a small smile. She was grateful for the outpouring of love, but she was becoming so depressed at the thought of Ash forgetting her, it had begun to overwhelm her. It was like everything she looked at was turning gray, losing color, and losing meaning. Every passing day, she felt the darkness creep up more and more. They sat quietly for a few minutes, until Rachael finally broke the silence. "So, are you gonna call him then?" Misty looked appalled at her suggestion. "Me, call him when he hasn't made an effort in over a year?" Rachael sighed. Misty could be so stubborn sometimes. "So, you're just gonna move on? Forget the years you spent traveling together, as if they mean nothing? Myst, don't kid yourself. You love the boy. Just because you won't say the word, that doesn't mean it's not so," Rachael chided Misty. "He's following his dream. That's an admirable trait, it's getting harder and harder to find a good man that follows his heart. He's strong willed, kind, and gracious. You have no idea how rare a find that is. I know it's been a long time, but you were such good friends. You trusted one another, cared for one another, and grew stronger together. You and Ash will pick up right where you left off, I'm sure of it. In my opinion, you shouldn't let it go." Misty knew she was right. She could deny her feelings, but that wouldn't change them. She was hurt and angry at Ash, but she'd give anything to be by his side again. She longed to hear his laughter again, it was contagious. Even in times when he did something utterly infuriating(which was most of the time), when he smiled that goofy smile, her heart would just melt. She missed everything about her best friend. He was her first real friend. She'd always thought they met by accident, but years ago when she and Ash parted ways, he assured her they were meant to meet. "We were meant to meet and become friends," he said. Friends. While she knew he was trying to tell her that it wasn't goodbye forever, when she later thought about what he had said, that one word hit her like a ton of bricks. Misty hung her head. "I'm just trying to protect myself. I know it's probably too late for that, but I can't stand feeling so vulnerable. I've been waiting so long for him. I'm still waiting for him..." she sighed. "But seriously, not one visit, not one phone call, letter, anything?" "Communication is a two way street," Rachael reminded her. "Shame on him for not checking in, but you're just as guilty for not trying to contact him. Personally I think if you want something, you've gotta go after it. That's exactly what he's doing now, he's chasing his dream. You can't just wait here and expect him to come running back. You've got to remind him you're here, and that you still care. I truly believe he does care about you Misty, but he's still just a boy. You have to be blunt, basically spell it all out for him. He's always been that way." Misty looked over at Rachael and smiled. She was trying so hard to reassure her that it would work out in the end, but Misty still wasn't entirely convinced. She fidgeted nervously. "I know, he was always a little slow on the uptake," Misty laughed, but still with sadness in her eyes. "I love being a gym leader, and I'm finally getting the hang of it. But I'd still seriously consider leaving it all behind if he asked me to go with him." She admitted, blushing. "I mean, I wouldn't leave the gym in shambles if Daisy couldn't handle it, I'd help her train, but... I'm really just torn. Just to hear him say we'll always be in each other's lives, that would be enough. He wouldn't have to stay. Of course I'd want more than to just be in his life, I'd want to be his life, his partner, his everything." It was the most adorable thing Rachael had ever heard Misty say. They were both romantics at heart. Rachael longed to see Ash and Misty together. Misty just glowed when she spoke about him, when she finally opened up and let herself feel true emotion. There's no way she or Ash could be with anyone else. She wouldn't let it happen. "So then, you'll try to reach out to him?" Rachael asked. "He should be home soon. You can catch him while he's still here, before he goes running off on another adventure and you miss your chance." "I'll think about it. I just don't know what I'd say..." Misty knew she was being stubborn, but she wouldn't feel the same if she went running after him again. She had already done that, she invited him to the Mirage Kingdom with her, and waited at home for him to return after his travels in Hoenn. She turned down other suitors because of him. It was his turn. The ball was in his court. Rachael was disappointed with her answer. She knew that meant she had no intention of reaching out to him, but her gears were turning and she was silently hatching up a plan. "Ok, well I'll head back to my gym I guess, it's getting late," Rachael grabbed her purse, then she and Ninetales headed for the door. Just before she closed it behind her, Rachael peeked her head back in the room. Misty was staring at the picture again. "Myst, just sleep on it, okay?" She asked, but wasn't expecting a response. She closed the door and headed home for the night. By the next morning, Rachael had decided what she was going to do. Misty would be utterly and totally pissed if she knew, but whatever. She'd get over it. First thing she had to do was figure out how to get in contact with Ash. She grabbed her Pokegear, and selected a name from her contact list. After two rings, he picked up the phone. "Hello?" "Tracy, it's Rachael. Are you in Cerulean or with Professor Oak today?" "Today I'm at Professor Oak's lab. Why, what's up? You guys need some help over there?" "No no, we're fine. I just wanted to get your advice about something, I need a male perspective." "Uh, okay sure... what's it about?" "Well, it's about Ash, actually..." "Ash? That's funny, he's actually here with us in the lab right now." Rachael was speechless. He was home? How long had he been there? And why didn't she or Misty know about it? A few moments passed before Tracy spoke again. "You still there?" "... yeah I'm here," she was still taken aback. "I'll be there in about an hour." * * * * * So a lot of my italics/spacing/headers didn't translate well when I pasted the chapters in. Hopefully it's something I can fix when I'm on my laptop, right now I'm working on mobile so it doesn't seem like I can fix any of it now. There are thoughts and Pokémon translations that are meant to be italicized, and I promise to fix it ASAP. Sorry! Chapter 2 "I don't wanna deny my heart it's chance to feel, I don't wanna deny my soul something real. Is there anything left in this world that will satisfy me? Is there anything left in this world that will satisfy you, tonight?" It's been a long time, Pikachu, I know she's gonna start firing off questions right away," Ash said to the electric mouse Pokémon perched on his shoulder. "So get ready." "Pikachu, pika pi!" I'm ready, let's go! Ash ran up on the porch, opened the door and shouted, "Mom, I'm home!" No sooner had the words come out of his mouth, Delia flew into the living room and threw her arms around her only child. "Oh Ash, welcome home dear!" "Miiime!" A Mr. Mime donning a chef's hat emerged from the kitchen to greet him. Just as expected, Delia jumped right in and started questioning Ash before he could even take off his jacket."What was the Kalos region like?" she asked. "Did you make lots of new friends? Are you well? Oh, Pikachu looks so happy!..." "Mom, can I at least sit down first? I'll tell you all about it, but I'm starving, let's eat!" said Ash. Ash and Mrs. Ketchum sat down at the kitchen table and enjoyed their first meal together in over a year. Mimey sang happily in the background while he washed the dishes and cleaned up the mess on the stove. Meanwhile, Ash proceeded to recount his travels in between shoveling mouthfuls of food. He told his mother about the new Pokémon he befriended, particularly Greninja, and explained to her the concept of mega evolution. He told her about Bonnie and Clemont, the brother and sister duo he traveled with through Kalos. They talked about his performance in the Kalos League; how close he was to winning. And of course, they talked about how he had saved the Earth from total destruction, yet again. As Ash spoke Delia listened intently, astonished at how much her son had grown and matured during his most recent expedition. Then she remembered something - someone - that Ash had briefly mentioned to her in the past, whom he had not yet mentioned. "Ash dear," she asked gently, "there was a girl about your age that travelled with you too, wasn't there? The one you said you met at camp when you were little?" Ash froze, his forkful of food dangled midair. "Yeah, there was... " He was hoping that Delia had forgotten, and wouldn't bring up Serena. After she boldly planted a kiss on his lips in the Kalos airport earlier that day, Ash didn't know what to think. All he knew was that it was awkward situation, and it was a conversation he didn't want to have with his mother. "Ash, did something happen between the two of you?" Right away Delia picked up on his nervous, evasive response to her question. "Did you hurt her feelings? Ash Ketchum, I taught you better than that!" she scolded. There she goes again, jumping to conclusions. He thought. "No mom, nothing bad happened," he said, hoping to put that conversation to bed. If he mentioned anything about the kiss, she'd think that there was something more than friendship between the two of them. And while Ash admired Serena's courage, he still felt uncomfortable with what had happened. He wouldn't let it affect their friendship, but he just didn't think of her that way. Ash looked down at his plate. I didn't kiss her back. Should I have? Probably, but... no. That would've given her the wrong idea. Did I lead her on to make her think I would be comfortable being kissed? I mean, it was nice but... The image of a girl from his past came to mind, and it took him by surprise. Delia could see that Ash was conflicted, and decided it was time to change the subject. "Oh, ok sweetie. Anyway, I'm happy to have you home dear. I know Samuel - I mean, Professor Oak - wants to catch up with you too. Why don't you stop by the lab tomorrow?" Ash had to force himself to stop thinking, so he would be present in the moment with his mother, who surely deserved his full attention. "Sure, sounds great. I can visit with my other Pokémon, and introduce them to our new friends. They'll love it, won't they Pikachu?" "Kaaaaaaa!" Sure will! Ash was surprised Pikachu put the ketchup bottle down long enough to answer him. After dinner (and dessert, that boy could really eat!) Ash showered and retired upstairs to his bedroom. It hadn't changed much at all since he was a kid. A poster of a Nidorino battling a Gengar hung over his desk, and his old familiar hat and gloves were sitting on top of his dresser. There were a few new pictures Delia had framed on his desk and nightstand. As he laid down in bed and pulled the comforter up over his shoulders, he turned over and saw her. The photo was of the group all together with their Pokémon, but one person in the photo stood out more so than the rest. He sat up and sighed. "Pikachu, what's going on with me?" "Pi, pikachu pi?" I knew something was bothering you, what's up? That was just it, Ash had no idea what was happening to him at the moment. It was as if suddenly someone flipped a switch, and he was seeing things in a new light - or lack thereof. When he arrived in Pallet Town, he didn't feel as happy to be back as he had anticipated. The flowers in his mother's garden didn't look as colorful or smell as sweet as they had last year. Everything around him was seem dull and bland. Even his mother's cooking, which always tasted amazing, just wasn't the same. Ash knew something was wrong, but he couldn't put a finger on it. Then he glanced over at the photo again. All he saw was the redhead beside him, holding Azurill and smiling. Her blue green eyes sparkled in the sunlight, why hadn't he noticed this before? He had never seen anything or anyone so beautiful in his life. All of the sudden he was truly seeing her; her beauty, her heart, her soul. "I haven't been thinking about Serena, just the kiss..." Kiss. Sounds so weird coming out of my mouth, even I realize that. Pikachu climbed into Ash's lap and looked at the picture. He pointed to Misty. "Pikachu pika, pika pi?..." You're thinking about her, right? "How'd you know Pikachu?" "Pikachu pi pika!" It's so obvious! Pikachu said, and rolled his eyes at his dense trainer. Even Pokémon could sense the connection between people. Ash lifted the photo and smiled. "It's been so long since I've seen her Pikachu. I've missed her, but I've been too distracted to realize it. It used to always hit me when I'd use her special lure, or when I'd pull out that handkerchief. But, it never felt like this... when I thought about her, I mean." Ash's face turned bright red. "Pikachu, I really wish she had been here when we got home." "Pika pi pikachu pika." I miss her too, Ash. "Yeah, I'm sure she's busy though, being the Cerulean Gym Leader and all. It was her dream to be a great water Pokémon trainer, and now she is. I'm proud of her, Pikachu. I'm sure she's happy." Ash said, then added, "I looked for her in the audience when we made it to the finals, but I couldn't find her." He was disappointed to have come so far, and she was nowhere to be found in the crowd. He knew it was a long shot, because of the distance, but he still had hope. He wanted her to see him, to remember him, and to cheer him on and encourage him. No matter how angry they got at each other in the past, they always supported one another. But if she was happy, he was happy. That's all that mattered. "It's funny how that kiss got me thinking about all this, isn't it? I mean, I never thought like this about any girl before." The truth was that Ash had a crush on Misty for a long time. He was just too busy challenging Gym Leaders and Pokémon Leagues, he wasn't ready to think of giving that up to be with someone. They were pretty young, after all. But he knew when he was ready to, he'd hoped that girl would be Misty. That's why he told her he knew they were meant to meet and become friends. After all, the best relationships started as friendships first, right? Even so, he wasn't entirely sure she liked him. He thought so, but then again, she never said it. He still didn't understand girls, and probably never would. Then a thought occurred to him. What if she met someone else? Up until now, he hadn't even considered the idea of her meeting someone else and falling in love. She was a hopeless romantic, he remembered that. It was definitely possible, and the thought gave him the chills. He sighed, and looked over at the alarm clock. He hadn't realized how late it was. "I think I need a good night's sleep, then maybe I'll stop feeling so weird, Pikachu." Probably not, he thought to himself. But it couldn't hurt. "We're gonna go visit the Professor and the other Pokémon at the lab bright and early tomorrow, so rest up buddy." "Pika pikachu, ka pika pi." I'll be ready. Goodnight Ash. Ash smiled at the photo one last time before he reached over and turned out the light. Ash awoke the next morning to the obnoxious sound of a whistling tea kettle downstairs. It was 10 a.m. already, and he'd slept like a rock. He was so exhausted he couldn't even remember what his dreams were about. He hopped out of bed, and for old time's sake, put on his old outfit. It was the one he wore when he first left Pallet Town to start his journey. He and Pikachu rushed down the stairs, expecting to find his mom in the kitchen, but it was just Mr. Mime making a cup of tea for himself. His mom had already left the house. Ash was surprised she didn't wake him, he didn't intend to sleep this late. He walked down the road to the lab, which was situated on a hill just north of the Ketchum household. Ash was tempted to jump right over the fence to see his Pokémon that were grazing outside, but he realized it would probably be rude if he didn't go inside and say hi to Professor Oak first. When he got to the porch, the rang the doorbell once. He was surprised to see his mother answer the door. "Hi sweetie! You must've been really tired, I didn't want to wake you, come on in!" "You answer the door like you live here, is there something I should know, mom?" She blushed, looking a little embarrassed, but the Professor chimed in before she could respond. "Ash! It's great to see you! It's been quite a while, I'm sure your Pokémon are excited to see you again," Professor Oak said. "Hey Tracey, Ash is here!" A familiar face emerged from the professor's Kitchen. "Hey Ash!" Tracey said. He was still wearing that goofy looking pink headband. Ash never did understand why he needed it. It looked like his hair would be stuck in place even if he took it off. "How's it going Tracey?" "Great Ash! Good to see you! If you'll excuse me a minute, I was just in the middle of feeding your Tauros and they'll get Krabby if I keep them waiting too long," Tracey said, and disappeared as quickly as he'd arrived. Ash was able to catch up with Professor Oak, telling him all about their adventures in Kalos. The Professor was fascinated by the concept of mega evolution, and was thrilled to hear that Ash was able to make such a strong connection with his Pokémon. "So, young man, what's next for you on your journey? Have you thought about checking out the Alola region?" "Sam, please! He just got home last night, don't encourage him to go running off again just yet!" Delia hadn't seen her son in a least a year, if not longer, and she wasn't ready to see him go again so soon. "Relax mom, it's not like I'm gonna leave tomorrow. Actually Professor, I've never even heard about the Alola region," Ash admitted. "Are there new species of Pokémon out there?" "Yes, there are many new and interesting Pokémon that call the Alola region their home. I've been lucky enough to meet and study a few of them. Rachael was invited out there several months ago to help them establish a Pokémon League on Mount Lanakila. She and Misty brought back several new Pokémon from the area," Professor Oak explained, then smiled. "I'm sure I'm telling you what you already know, you three are still very close, aren't you?" Ash's face went blank, and his eyes dropped to the floor. He was guilt-ridden, and it was evident. "Well, actually, it's been a while since I've seen or heard from my friends in Kanto..." he said, embarrassed to admit he let his friendships slip. "Oh... uh, well..." the Professor hadn't realized it was a touchy subject. "Tracey goes over to Cerulean City quite a bit to help Misty at the gym. I hear Rachael is a coach now, and her training center is doing very well," he added. "I haven't been over to see it for myself yet. They're both keeping busy, I'm sure they understand." The Professor tried to be reassuring, but Delia looked disappointed. "Misty used to stop by all the time to visit Mimey and I, she's such a gem. I must say, I miss her," Delia said, her eyes were closed. She looked as if she genuinely longed to see Misty again. Ash's stomach sank. He didn't realize how much his mom liked Misty too... That's when Ash realized he made a huge mistake, letting his best friend slip away. She was the first person he met on his quest to become a Pokémon Master. It was thanks to her that Pikachu was saved that day. If she hadn't fished them out of the river, and if he hadn't stolen her bike... She was so angry about that bike being destroyed. But then again, she was even angry the day they returned to Viridian City and Nurse Joy had fixed it. That was the fateful day they went their separate ways. Ash then realized he was daydreaming, and laughed nervously. "Sorry, I was just remembering the day I left here, and thinking about how far I've come. It's just amazing!" He lied, and both Delia and Professor Oak smiled. Except that I've been blowing off everyone that meant anything to me. Why am I such an idiot? "You have come a long way Ash, we're both proud if you!" Delia threw her arms around Ash, who hugged her back. "Thanks mom." "Well Ash, how about we go out back? I know your Pokémon would love to see you" the Professor suggested. "Sounds great!" Ash said eagerly. Ring ring ring, ring ring ring, phone call, phone call! Tracey's Pokegear yelled out from inside his fanny pack on the professor's desk. "I got it!" Tracey called as he flew out from the kitchen and threw himself on the desk chair, almost knocking it over. "Take it easy there, buddy," Ash joked. "He's probably expecting a call from Daisy," the Professor chuckled. "It's nice that he gets out of here and interacts with people. I spend a lot of time cooped up in the lab, but he's still young, and needs to get out more." Daisy... as in Misty's sister Daisy? Ash thought to himself. Hmmm... "Ash? That's funny, he's actually here with us in the lab right now..." Tracy said to the caller on the other end. "...you still there?..." Tracey looked down at his Pokegear. "Huh, she hung up. Wonder what that was all about..." he said. "Tracy, who was that?" Ash asked, curious to find out who was asking about him. Was it Misty? "Rachael asked about you Ash, and she said she's coming down here in about an hour."